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This top ten list includes recent releases I’ve been digging lately. Each one can be streamed in full using the links in the text below. Enjoy!
Black Books – Aquarena EP (Believe UK)
Although this Austin, TX five-piece is about to release their self-titled debut LP in October, I’m still immersing myself in this early 2013 four-song precursor. While their 2011 An Introduction To… EP mined a murkier, slowcore style with bursts of volume, Aquarena’s guitars are more dreamy and expansive, recalling Elbow, Doves, and The Bends-era Radiohead. From the throbbing “Favorite Place” to the quietly majestic “All the People,” one grows giddy imagining a whole album of this is on its way!
Misty Boyce – Tough Love EP, “Hands Untied” (Misty Boyce)
Since releasing this breathtaking EP in March, songstress Boyce has moved from NYC to Los Angeles, closer to her hometown of Las Cruces, NM. What sets Boyce apart is not just her marvelous voice, but also her ability to communicate so much candid, naked emotion in every song. Six months later, I still drop everything I’m doing when I hear this! See my full review here. (And to prove Boyce can belt with the best of them, don’t miss her exuberant “Hands Untied” single from January.)
Exit Clov – Jailbird (Nervous People)
Seven months after this alluring and intelligent NYC/DC five-piece’s second LP came out, it’s still getting regular plays at this writer’s house. From Taiwanese American twin sisters Emily and Susan Hsu’s intertwining, honeyed voices (the group even did a tour of Taiwan last year), to the lush, expressive violins, to their three male bandmates’ solid and varied backing, to the melodic depth and multi-faceted songwriting, to the literate lyrics, Jailbird deftly unveils the band’s multitude of secret weapons. See my full review here.
I Was Totally Destroying It – “Blossoms” (Greyday)
On their new single, this Chapel Hill, NC quintet doesn’t stray from the cleanly-produced, anthemic alterna-rock of their last two LPs, 2011’s Preludes and 2012’s Vexations. “Blossoms” moves through its six minutes at a stately pace, with dense thickets of guitars, heavy, plodding drums, and an icy organ lurching around Rachel Hirsh’s dreamy, breathy vocals (her singing cohort John Booker joins in later). In IWTDI’s capable hands, it’s a sumptuous slow burn.
Dan Israel – Live On (Dan Israel)
I first heard Minneapolis’s prolific Israel (ex-The Cultivators) on his 2005 self-titled seventh LP, and this is now his twelfth. Fatherhood has tempered the frustration and cynicism that peppered his lyrics eight years ago, giving way to a reassuring, buoyant optimism. He still recalls Elvis Costello and Paul Westerberg – in fact, “Mile After Mile” is dedicated to Replacements guitarist Slim Dunlap (Israel’s friend who suffered a stroke in 2012), while “Won’t Have to Wait” is a ‘Mats tribute. As before, his music is both sincere and pacifying. (Also check out his 2-LP vinyl best-of, Danthology.)
Kingsfoil – “What Your Mother Taught You,” “Grapevine Valentine” (Holiday Heart)
This 11-year-old York, PA band (led by strapping frontman Jordan Davis) has been gaining popularity, likely due to the 2012 addition of Malcolm in the Middle’s now-grown-up Frankie Muniz (!) on drums – and a video premiere on Perez Hilton’s gossip blog. But Muniz is surprisingly good, and these two stylish, danceable alterna-pop singles (from their upcoming A Beating Heart is a Bleeding Heart LP; see videos here and here) blend subtle, multi-layered arrangements with hard-hitting playing, just as they did on 2007’s Bears in the Attic EP and 2009’s “Trees.”
The Modeens – Electric Caribou (The Modeens)
As it happens, 2012’s Music From the Edge of Town Part 1 EP (no Part 2 ever appeared) was a preview of this Tucson, AZ foursome’s second LP, as all three songs appear on it. Though the EP hinted at a country & western/Americana direction, much of Caribou hearkens back to their familiar, raucous ‘60s garage-pysch style – see the organ-drenched, horn-flecked “Fantasy” or the Van Morrison/Them “Gloria”-isms of “Mr. Jones.” And the EP’s driving, Cristina Williams-sung “Faster” still soars, and shouldn’t have been buried so far near the end!
Elizabeth Morris – Optimism EP (Elizabeth Morris)
Allo Darlin’s sensual-voiced Morris wrote this solo EP’s two enchanting opening tunes on her great-great-great grandmother’s vintage 1850-era piano while on a visit to her native Australia, and recorded them on Hefner singer Darren Hayman’s classical-sounding 1933 fold-out ship’s piano, prior to her move from London to Italy (Hayman also did the EP’s artwork). She adds two more unplugged beauties on acoustic guitar, including a cover of The Wave Pictures’ “Sweetheart,” making Optimism even more of a gorgeous, unassuming gem.
The Seldon Plan – That Time You Dreamed EP (The Seldon Plan)
Since their 2011 fourth LP Coalizione de Volere, this Baltimore group have pared down to a trio with the departure of second guitarist Chris Ehrich, while Kresimir Tokic has replaced longtime bassist David Hirner. This new EP finds them slowing down the pace more than before. Their brisk indie pop and angular post-rock has given way to languid, hazy dreampop/shoegaze, with Michael Nestor’s iridescent, ringing guitar and sighing, wistful vocals floating and drifting over Frank Corl’s resolute drums. Dreamed is melancholy, meditative, and mellifluous.
The Whispering Tree – The Escape EP (The Whispering Tree)
I’d been pining for a follow-up to this New York group’s resplendent 2010 debut, Go Call the Captain, and The Escape is another lovely treasure! Expanding from a duo to a foursome, their acoustic/piano music is spacious, sweeping, and snowpeak-scaling, with vivid lyrics evoking nostalgic imagery and long-suppressed memories. Best, Eleanor Kleiner’s wondrous, classically-trained siren voice will again freeze you in your tracks – see the stark, galloping “Remember Waiting,” the playful, skipping rendition of “Over the Rainbow,” and especially the elevating closer “Pink House.”
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