Peach Kelli Pop’s Part III LP is some wonderfully fun kitsch that rides a wave of surfer-punk and Riot grrrl through songs that range from childish fawning over Disney’s Princess Castle: “I saw you in a dream, I woke up from a scream / You glowed pink and green, death stare and laser beam” to hitting the “Nude Beach” and a rocking song about a kind of Lars and the Real Girl relationship called “Plastic Love”: “You don’t need to hear her views / She’ll always smile at you / When your mom comes to visit / You can hide her in your closet.” The Ottawa singer’s songs are all propulsive, pushing forward with a wink, nod and grizzly guitar. Every song has a catchy hook, humor and a psychedelic doo-wop dynamic. You can follow Peach Kelli Pop (aka Allie Hanlon) at facebook, blogspot, bandcamp and twitter. — David D. Robbins Jr.
Say what you will about Sun Kil Moon’s Mark Kozelek personally, but his style of rambling, subconscious Americana is some of the most alarmingly good music he’s ever created, from 2014’s Benji to the pickup-truck pilgrimages of his latest, Universal Themes. The record opens with my favorite song from the LP, “The Possum”, which was released at the end of last year as a teaser. It’s a weird song that begins with Kozelek seeing a dying possum in his backyard, mangled by a cat. The song shifts gears, littered with real-life friends, including his girlfriend, Caroline, who cries, disturbed at the thought of a dying animal. Kozelek takes us through a day journeying to see the band Godflesh, with a former Red House Painters bandmate. But it’s here where Kozelek drops a lyric about he and his friend enjoying each other’s company and laughing until their “guts were protruding” — a piece of imagery echoing the earlier possum. It’s a love song about what it means to appreciate life, friends, lovers, good times and even mortality. My favorite piece of lyricism is this inspired bit about watching his friend Justin Broadrick of Godflesh tearing it up: “While Justin tuned his guitar; like a church, it got so quiet / Just for a minute, and then they all soared together / Like a car off a cliff, we crashed and burned over and over and again and again / They threw hard, vicious guttural B-flats / Like a tough Roberto “Hands of Stone” Duran in the seventh round / Davey Moore June 16, 1983 / Godflesh ran around that night like an early Mark “Gator” Rogowski / Justin lunged at the mic like a hungry Great White / He was on fire, giving it everything he had and killing it that night.” Those verses are just unreal. It’s difficult not getting caught up in the fire and energy of its appreciation. — David D. Robbins Jr.
Back in January the voice and songcraft of Lilla Vargen transfixed those that were lucky enough to stumble into her stunning and emotive rolling-piano ballad, “This Is Love”. She’s followed that song up with another, “Don’t Forget Me”. Once again she’s chosen the intimacy of simple production, just her vocals and piano, and it’s as impressive as her debut. There’s a real range to her piano-playing and songwriting too. In her latest gem, you get flawless lyricism and poetics like this: “I’m an ocean in your bedroom / Make you feel warm / Make you want to re-assume / Now we know it all for sure … / I’m a meth lab / First rehab … / I’m the rainbow in your jail cell / All the memories of everything you’ve ever smelled / I’m an inbred / And a pothead / Two legs that you spread inside the tool shed / Now we know it all for sure … / I’m the blood stain on your shirt sleeve / Coming down boy, coming to believe / Now I know it all for sure / Make the hair stand up on your arm / Teach you how to dance inside the funny farm / Not alone / I’ll be there / Tell me when you wanna go.” The qualities of both songs may show an artist breaking out of the timidity of sharing her music with the public, but you wouldn’t know it by listening to her music, which rushes powerfully over everything in its path — a waterfall of piano chords and passion washing rocks smooth. There’s a majesty that marks her lyrics and puts her into the company of fellow piano-chanteuses, Rickie Lee Jones, Carole King and Fiona Apple. Follow Vargen at facebook and twitter. Note: Lyrics are all unofficial. — David D. Robbins Jr.
Here’s an early candidate for song of the year. Sharon Van Etten has been coming into her own as a songwriter. I could hear the clear progress from her more modest 2009 LP, Because I Was In Love, to epic tracks like “Love More” from Epic just a year later, to “We Are Fine” and “Magic Chords” off Tramp and last year’s ballad “Your Love Is Killing Me”. Van Etten is releasing the I Don’t Want to Let You Down EP on June 9 via Jagjaguwar, and she’s streaming a song off it called, “Just Like Blood”. I’d been listening to the song so much since it first began streaming, that I thought it deserved some words about what makes it such a fantastic single. I’ve learned, after years of listening to SVE, that her lyrics have grown stronger, and you can hear her confidence (note her upper-register singing too) in the way she’s willing to let verses sit, nearly non-sequitur, to paint a picture rather than explicate one. The mid-tempo “Just Like Blood” is no different. Between the gorgeously dripping piano work, forbidding organ and intermittent strings, sit these smoldering lyrics with their fragmented syntax broken like shards of glass — memory and recollection the scraps of the song’s seduction: “Disappear / When the sun goes down / I sit still / As you breath / Turn around … / You set me off / Just like a gun / Then you run / Just like blood.” But most impressive is when SVE elongates the word “blood”, mimicking it’s visual flow phonetically, the sound of the word then blending gracefully into a wave of orchestral unanimity. . — David D. Robbins Jr.
Braids can be classic and you can shape them into unexpected patterns that become sophisticated and stylish. Rainy Milo’s official U.S. debut of This Thing of Ours blends a number of distinct musical styles into a single braid, melding jazz, hip-hop, R&B, dub, electronic and reggae influences. But braids do one other thing — highlight the beauty of the face. In the musical sense, it’s all about highlighting Milo’s voice, which is as much an instrument as any playing around her. Like Amy Winehouse before her, Milo’s modulated jazz-style of vocal phrasing is a kind of beautiful cheating. It allows her to bend and elongate verses and words to her will, line-lengths flex their soul within her vocal slides, love finds its depth in the lean of her expanding vowels, the curvature she gives the word “sure” in the album opener, “Are You Sure?”, adds a sexy, teasing tinge to a song about trepidation in a relationship: “You gave me something yesterday / I swore I wouldn’t lose it / I swore I’d hold on tightly / But then I started to lose grip / Yes, I lost it / Because I always over-think.”
Femme Fantasm’s “Ritual You+Me” will be one of the best tracks you’ve heard this year. It’s nearly five minutes of spacey synth, gooey female dream-pop vocals and deliciously snaking electro synth-horn. The latter slides into the song at the :56 mark and is one of the main reasons this song is so stunning. It’s easy to get lost in this leisurely textured delight, that still manages to keep steady pacing with its retro 80s rhythm. The lyrics are whispered and lush, featuring verses with imagery of dreams and love. The Los Angeles solo project’s song is just one of four on a self-titled EP released via the Beko imprint. The sound is reminiscent of Butterclock’s First Prom EP, Sleep ∞ Over and Nite Jewel. It just doesn’t get better. Follow Femme Fantasm on facebook, twitter, and tumblr. — David D. Robbins Jr.