Indie Pop

New album: Secret Towns || Nightlights

Nightlights, the debut album from American indie rock four-piece Secret Towns, was released at the end of September. That we’re only writing about it now is because these are those songs that take a little more time to love. The seed was planted a few weeks ago, and thanks to the occasional attention, the 10 track collection has grown into a wantlist-worthy LP. Luke Thornton (vocals, guitar), Sam Pena (bass), Harry Dulaney (drums), and Matt Petino (lead guitar) play dreamy, jangling guitar pop with psychedelic and ambient post-punk elements, with lyrics about escaping moments from the past and present. In everything the music is aimed at listening at night, the hours that offer the excitement of the potential time ahead to the morning after. As the album begins: “It’s so still tonight // But I feel the rush so far ahead of me.” To end 40 minutes later with the last lines of the title track: “We won’t be the same // Leaving out of the scene // But before you leave // Leave a nightlight on for me.” According to the band, the album represents the idea of affection remaining with the people and places passing through time. Likely that you will be hypnotized if you look at moving city lights at the same moment.

Nightlights is out now digitally. Add to wantlist: Bandcamp

Dusted || The 10 Best Cover Songs Of October 2021

Not all new music is really new, as many artists occasionally play a song they know from one of their heroes. Often they are songs that deserve to be dusted and polished, simply because they should not be forgotten. Some of those cover versions are so good, we’d like to put a spotlight on them. Chosen from a wide range, here are – in random order – ten of our favorite covers from last month – links to the pages where you can add them to your wantlist included.

Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door || Cover: The William Loveday Intention || Original: Bob Dylan
It’s unbelievable how much good music Billy Childish continues to create, with originals and covers, but also adaptations of his own earlier work. Last month, with CTMF, he released the great single Bob Dylan’s Got a Lot to Answer For (“Even an idiot must admit that Bob Dylan made some great tunes, but despite his many achievements it must also be said that Bob has got a lot to answer for, so we wrote him a complementary tune”), and from the moniker of The William Loveday Intention also appeared an impressive cover of the master’s Knockin’ On Heavens Door. It’s a classic that has been covered many times, but this is possibly the most epic one. That goes for the 10-minute vocal version, but the even longer instrumental is even more compelling. Out on 12″ vinyl through Squoodge Records and digitally via Damaged Goods.

New album: Fortitude Valley || Fortitude Valley

I’d like to introduce you to Durham’s (UK) answer to Auckland’s (NZ) The Beths: Fortitude Valley! Their self-titled debut provides the ear candy that can only be the result of hitting the sweet spot between indie pop, powerpop and pop punk.

Fortitude Valley is fronted by Laura Kovic, who you may know as the keyboardist of Tigercat. She found her bandmates through the much missed Fortuna Pop! label. Those bandmates? Bassist Greg Ullyart from Night Flowers, Nathan Stephens Griffin (drums) and Daniel Ellis (lead guitar). Ellis also plays in Martha, which is probably my favorite UK pop punk band of the past decade. I love how several of the chord progressions and guitar fills on the record are reminiscent of that band, most notably on the sweet album opener Baby, I’m Afraid.

While decidedly pop-oriented, the music of Fortitude Valley is quite the departure from Kovic’s previous output. “In the past I’ve usually written more gentle melodic pop songs,” she explains in the press release, “but I’ve tried to move away from that slightly on this album and experiment with adding more deliberate bite to my songwriting. Nathan, Daniel and Greg definitely helped to make it more punk.”

The record is timely as well, touching on themes like the passage of time, friendships and relationships growing apart, and feelings of insecurity, depression, and anxiety—as well as searching for love and salvation—, and maintaining to sound joyful and fun throughout. Having two kittens from rescued street cats at home, I can particularly relate to All Haill The Great Destroyer, “a tribute to Margie the rescue cat who destroys everything for fun and is an absolute legend.”

So yeah, what I’m trying to say is that I completely fell for the ear candy of Fortitude Valley. Disclaimer: SO MANY HITS!

Add to wantlist: Bandcamp || Fika Recordings

New album: Diamondtown || Diamondtown

Diamondtown is made up of veterans of the Nova Scotia underground scene, whose past bands include Eric’s Trip, Dog Day, and Century Egg. The band has about 2.1 million fewer monthly listeners on Spotify than The War On Drugs. And yet, I can envision a lot of those TWOD fans fall for the new self-titled record of Diamondtown. To me, Diamondtown operates in that same realm of spacious, tension building, accessible guitar pop/rock, particularly on songs like Flame, Truth and Outtamind.

But rather than the dad rock-vibe of TWOD with its Dire Straits influences, the songs of Diamondtown  seem substantially informed by ’80s new wave and ’60s jangly pop. They are more concise as well.  Perfect for a late summer beach day, or on your commute with a coffee-to-go in your hand.

Listen to Stride, a perfect and timeless jangle pop tune, and let the sound of Diamondtown gently wash over you.

Diamondtown is out now on Label Obscura.

Add to wantlist: Bandcamp

New album: Rural France || RF

I cannot emphasize enough how much I appreciate labels that consistently release terrific records. It is worth a great deal when you get excited whenever a label announces a new release, when you can blindly rely on a label’s good taste. Take Spanish label Meritorio Records. The label’s batting average in 2021 is off the charts. Basically, all of their recent releases are worth your money (i.e., Wurld Series, The Telephone Numbers, Monnone Alone, Real Numbers, Stephen’s Shore).

Meritorio’s latest homerun is the debut LP (RF) from Rural France, a duo (Tom Brown and Rob Fawkes) that actually lives in Rural England (Wiltshire). Rural France plays ’60s pop disguised as ’90s slacker indie rock. The guitars are fuzzy and jangly, and the lo-fi songs are short and forward moving. Oh, and there is the occasional synth lick saying hi, how are you. If you are looking for 25 minutes of worriless escapism powered by solid songwriting, look no further than RF. What I like most about this release is how coherent and accomplished it is as a full album. Usually, it’s easy to pick out the highlights of a record, but this one I would actually recommend listening in full. And the record still keeps getting better with each listen, despite being accessible right from the bat.

For some reason, it took Rural France (“The hardest working, nineties-influenced indie rock band in West Wiltshire”) several years to record and release RF. “The songs were mostly written during the heatwave of 2018, spurred on by Beach Boys bootlegs and a World Cup. Half-drunk on the sun and Brian Wilson’s genius, I’d make the short journey from the garden to my guitar to try and get down some vague ideas that were forming in the haze of that sweltering suburban summer,” Brown explains. Not sure if it had any influence on the band name or the songwriting, but France won that 2018 World Cup.

So yeah, Meritorio hit another one out of the park. And (spoiler alert) the next one is coming soon (Semi Trucks, out November 26).

Add to wantlist: Bandcamp || Meritorio Records

Gimme 5! Lake Artifik Shares His Five Favorite Albums

With ‘Gimme 5!’ we take a peek into the collections of artists we admire. The premise is simple: artists WE like share 5 records THEY love.

One of my favorite discoveries of 2021 is Lake Artifik. This is the moniker under which Swiss musician Carlos E. Cordero writes and records beautiful, dreamy acoustic guitar songs. His debut album Dream Park consists of nine layered, mysterious and slightly sad tracks about past memories, a very suitable soundtrack for Sunday mornings. In the meantime he has also released the EP Bloom, with three new songs that are a bit more straightforward, pop oriented, and positive. Landgraaf in particular caught my attention, because I went to Pinkpop there a few times. The lyrics are about the fantasies that Carlos and his best friend at the time had about playing at the festival; as teenagers they dreamed of ‘making it’ with their band, thinking they were the coolest kids around since they performed gigs for their 60 fans (“For all the times we saw the sky // Thinking that we could fly // Jamming our songs through the night // Waiting for our time to shine”).

This seemed like a good reason to ask Carlos about his sources of inspiration. The explanations of his favorite albums make it clear that we are dealing with an artist who is a good listener, who also knows how to describe it well.

New album: Teddy Grey || The Great Failed Romances Of The Twentieth Century

There are worse, much worse ideas for a concept album than The Great Failed Romances Of The Twentieth Century. It’s the focus of an ambitious project by NY based artist Teddy Grey. Grey picked and wrote songs about 30 celebrity romances that went wrong, including iconic couples (Sid & Nancy, Hepburn & Tracy, Ike & Tina, Sonny & Cher, Lindsey Buckingham & Stevie Nicks), but also weird ones (Vanilla Ice & Madonna), and romances that may not have actually occured (Monroe & JFK, Brando & Dean). An extensive supporting cast of musicians helped out in the recordings.

Part satire, part heartfelt tribute to pop culture history, The Great Failed Romances Of The Twentieth Century is packed with wit and catchy melodies. Musically, the record is all over the place with each song sounding differently, from pop punk to arena rock, from ballads to retro pop, giving the record a theatrical, musical vibe that harbors more than a touch of Weird Al Yankovich as well. Consequently, the record can be hit or miss depending on your taste. Put differently, you are unlikely to care for all 84 minutes of the record, but there will be a little bit for everyone. It’s no surprise that Grey describes his music as “Rock N Roll McDonalds.”

Highlights for me are the Sid & Nancy jam There’s Nothing That I Love (But You Come Close), Unwritten Gay Romantic History (Greta & Mercedes), Little Black Book (James & Marlon), and Letters (Virginia & Vita). Cool concept, fun tunes.

Add to wantlist: Bandcamp

New album: The Exbats || Now Where Were We

Last month, I read how music writers were already compiling their Album Of The Year lists. It was only September…crazy right? I guess that’s how it works if you are a serious music writer. The advantage of having your own outlet is that you don’t have to worry about deadlines and you can postpone working on year-end lists just a little longer. But my general inclination towards procrastination is not the main reason for waiting out on the AOTY list. It’s simply because there will always be late contenders entering the competition.

Now Where Were We by The Exbats is a primary example. The Exbats are daughter-father duo Inez Kenny McLain on drums/vocals and guitar/vocals, and Bobby Carlson Jr. on bass. Now Where Were is the The Exbats third album. It is built on the same effective template as their previous albums: Scrappy and honest ’60s pop rounded out by influences from ’70s powerpop and punk, garage and bubblegum pop and blue-eyed soul. Kinda like The Mamas & The Papas x The Shangri-Las x The Archies x The Ramones. Though subtle, the music of The Exbats has steadily been evolving, and I don’t think the band has never sounded better. The songs on Now Where Were We have more depth, diversity and better harmonies than on their previous outings; The result of a more deliberate and more extensive period of songwriting. What hasn’t changed: The Exbats still sound insanely catchy, with memorable choruses you will sing along to in no time.

I have seldom exclaimed listening to my new favorite song by a band on their third album. I think it happened at least 3 or 4 times with Now Where Were We: Coolsville USA, Practice On Me, Best Kiss, and Hey New Zealand are all instant classics. Let me tell you, when one of the funnest bands of this era release their best work yet, you’d better create  some room to update your AOTY lists.

Add to wantlist: Bandcamp || Discogs

New album: Belaver || Lain Prone

If you’re not yet familiar with the music of Ben Godfrey aka Belaver, I suggest you start by watching the video of his song Driver (from his full-length debut album True Love of Crime), imho one of the best of 2019 (how is it possible that this only has 734 views?) – that gives an idea of the intimate, smart and mysterious music of the NYC-based songwriter. Pretty good, but slightly alienating – it could be a soundtrack from a movie starring Bill Murray. Belaver has now released his sophomore LP Lain Prone, again produced by Robert Ellis. The 14 beautiful new songs form a coherent whole, both in terms of theme and sound. “They say the world is gonna end” is the first line of the opening track (Here It Comes). “Take my cyber lyfe, take my megabytes, make it all go away” is the last line of the second track (In The R L). Next lyrics look back on better times: “We could have a 70s adventure slash comedy” (70’s Adventure). And so on. The cover art actually says it all: isn’t it best to stay cool as the misery of the world rages by? Yet this folky indie pop is more melancholy than gloomy, in a way similar to conversations you have with a good friend in the middle of the night about the meaning and purpose of life, and that the next morning you wonder what clever things you said then. Belaver helps you remember. RIYL Gold Star, Daniel Johnston, Refrigerator.

Lain Prone is out now digitally. Add to wantlist : Bandcamp

New single: Sillicone Values || Streaming TV b​/​w Nothing Wrong With Me

Bristol (UK) postpunk/indiepop hybrid Sillicone Values make a deliberate attempt of showing how little they care on their latest single. They don’t care if they sound like other bands. And, they explicitly mention that they recorded the two songs “without due care or attention.” They probably could care less if anyone listens to these songs, let alone write about them. I am not sure whether the four-piece is too cool to care or whether it genuine disinterest. Unfortunately, I like these two too much not to share. Streaming TV and Nothing Wrong With Me are a time capsule to the underground pop scene in ’80s UK. The only reason I’m sure this is in fact a present day band is that they sing about only feeling safe when they are streaming tv.

Add to wantlist: Bandcamp

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