December 30, 2013

Today's Hotness: School Shoes, Withered Hand, Tadoma, Mutes

School Shoes

>> We're increasingly spoiled by the tremendous surprises dropping under our noses over at Bandcamp. Sure, a flat vinyl circle is always going to be our preferred media, but these days nothing is as immediate and sudden as the sensory blitzkrieg and subsequent rush of a digital taster from a hot and fresh band. Boston's latest bedroom dream-pop export School Shoes last month propounded via Bandcamp a perfect pair with its demos "Cults" and "Dress." The brainchild of a gentleman named Ty Ueda, School Shoes' two tracks fuzz and crackle with delicious analog enthusiasm. Both feature such expansive and pristine hooks that even in their demo-ish state they already feel Captured Tracks-ready -- even arena-ready -- in spirit and scope [and remind this blog’s executive editor of a certain incredible Portland, Ore.-based indie rock foursome -- Ed.]. Opener "Cults" is unapologetically exuberant pop. Commencing with a taut, picked guitar riff and snare-centered beat, the tune echoes turn-of-the-decade Brooklynites Beach Fossils with the twitchy anxiousness of the instrumentation. After a dreamy opening, Ueda's voice enters, and it's a real stunner: clear and expressive, but with enough deep cool to keep the frumpy taste-makers happy. Better still, the voice provides a great focal point as the tunes confidently reveal themselves, jangling from a bed of reverb and delay and driving a gently lifting chord progression in the chorus. "Dress" opens with more primal hisses and ramblings before embracing a classic indie two-chord pull and push whose persistence and quiet passion echo the Belle & Sebastian outlier from 1996's Tigermilk, "Electric Renaissance." New-wave bass and double-tracked vocals emphasize the tune's charm, which is amplified further still by the instrumental interplay. All of the instruments work in concert as though School Shoes was a complete live band with multiple personalities, which is very impressive. Stream both tracks below, and click through the embed to grab the demos for further future untethered enjoyment. -- Edward Charlton

>> It amused this reviewer more than a little when he first read that new Slumberland signees Withered Hand are promoting their forthcoming sophomore long-player, New Gods, with a song called "Black Tambourine." The tune even features Pam Berry of the very same dreamy and legendary institution from which that name is borrowed! However, as soon as the track in question is heard, it's apparent that it is no simple-minded act of hero worship, but rather a promising introduction to a Scottish artist by the name of Dan Willson. Mr Willson creates what Scotsmen toiling in indie rock do best –- honest, inviting pop music in the vein of Teenage Fanclub. If Withered Hand's previous album Good News is any indication, however, the project is a unique signing for Slumberland, seeing as that record featured a much heavier folk-rock sound. However, "Black Tambourine" may prove that Willson has set his sights on the sounds of the '60s; the track is a shockingly good exercise in power pop. Opening with cheery snare work and bouncy bass, the song structure belies the lyrical concern: aging and doing so with grace. "I'm older now, but I feel the same, but I'm not the same," sings Willson, offering a sentiment with which many can surely relate. Ms. Berry delicately accentuates his vocals, then offers greater support in a series of subtle choruses. These sneak up on the listener with their tunefulness -- much in the same way the organ creeps in to nearly match the volume of the fuzz guitar solo by the conclusion. "Black Tambourine" may be a bit of a grower, but when that moment arrives, one won't forget it. With the announcement of New Gods for early next year, 2014 is already proving to be another exciting and unexpected chapter for such Slumberland. It's also worth noting that this is the second release to be released in partnership with U.K. imprint Fortuna POP!, which this year co-released Weird Sister by Clicky faves Joanna Gruesome. So you know, all very good signs. Listen to "Black Tambourine" via the embed below, and buy it from ITunes here. -- Edward Charlton

>> What does Tadoma sound like? It's a great question, because even after spending some time with Nascent Zones, the recently self-released odds-and-sods collection from Philadelphia electronic producer and Tadoma mastermind Joe Patitucci, a simple answer is hard to pinpoint. In 2008 this blog described the music as "Boards Of Canada meets More-era Pink Floyd." But this recently issued collection of never-quite-finished tracks tickles the brain while recalling a broader variety of musical and cultural touchstones. Indeed, Nascent Zones features such a diverse array of instrumental approaches that there is really -- to embrace the hackneyed phrase -- something for everyone here. Some of the loop-heavy tracks nearly approach hip-hop, such as the bouncy opener, while the more ambient pieces often incorporate orchestral elements that only increase their size and scope. Mr. Patitucci describes the idea behind Nascent Zones as "a place or zone you enter and as these zones I am making available are somewhat unfinished, it only seemed appropriate that I use this name." Unfinished or not, many of the tracks feature transporting instrumental melodies and warm, analog production that feels especially cozy in headphones. Two compositions toward the front end of the set, "Rover" and "Contact," express Patitucci's strengths by pairing simple yet non-traditional guitar work with carefully calibrated vintage synths. "Rover" begins with a de-tuned strum that recalls dream-poppers of yore -- and the many whirring noises, simple drum pads, and clean, bleeping sounds remind this reviewer not only of Stereolab or Seefeel, but also of certain moments by the relatively unheralded Philadelphia dream-pop unit Flowchart. "Contact" leans toward early krautrock, as well as the opulent, unfolding guitar tapestries of post-punkers like Durutti Column. Grab all of Nascent Zones for any price here, and stream the entire set via the embed below. -- Edward Charlton

>> There's always moments during the holiday season that grab one sharply by the lapels. Maybe it's the quick pang of nostalgia -- the realization that one's youthful revelry is fleeting. Or maybe, it's a beer in hand and some end-of-the-year reflection during a solitary snowfall. Few music fans go without at least one of those soundtrackable moments this time of year (Boston, you apparently have at least six inches of snow to thoughtfully stand under coming your way Thursday evening), and a recently released single from Birmingham, England's Mutes is perfectly suited for such duty. Helmed by a gentleman named James, as we noted here in April, this project proffers carefully looped electric guitar and subtle, gorgeous melodies that pirouette broadly before fading into the mist they emerged from. The celestial instrumental "Kissing Trees" sparkles quietly, and the entrancing way the guitar tumbles through the melody is proof that quality songwriting always wins. "Memory Serves," which touts spectral and downcast vocals, and echoes Grenadine's chilling 1992 A-side "Fillings," or even a slowed-down take on the hyper-charged hammer-ons of bands like Clicky Clicky faves Algernon Cadwallader or Johnny Foreigner. James' soft vocal establishes a lonely dreaminess, intoning "there's nothing to live for." With all of this in mind, it’s easy to think of Mutes as a sort of John Fahy or Billy Bragg of dream pop -- alone up there on the stage, and all the better for it. Grab the Starvation Age single for any price, and be ready for the next soundtrackable moment. -- Edward Charlton

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