February 17, 2014

Today's Hotness: Frankie Cosmos, The New Mendicants, Beach Volleyball

Frankie Cosmos (detail)

>> The hype surrounding NYC-based combo Frankie Cosmos belies the cloistered, personal vibe of their music -- proof positive, we suppose, that great songwriting finds its audience. The quartet, which is fronted by Greta Kline and includes among its number Aaron Maine of Porches., trades in the kind of plainly stated, lo-fi pop that lives and dies on personality. It's music that emphasizes unadorned, in-your-ear moments -- such as those that characterized Velvet Underground's third album -- as opposed to the blunt grandiosity and electronic immersion found more widely in today's underground. Frankie Cosmos' "Birthday Song" is a sweet, minute-and-a-half pop confection that recalls a certain stripe of indie pop that has not pinged the mainstream for years. The tune's biggest moments arrive at the end of each of the verses, when the drums shift into a half-time beat -- a trick borrowed from the metal and hardcore bands of our youth, perhaps, but it's very effective here, where Ms. Kline's vocals seem to get dragged down with a sadness that matches her year-closing observations and angst toward a changing world. Kline's wistfulness here is perfect and fresh for a band that hails from the Big Apple in 2014. With the success of Hospitality and now Frankie Cosmos, we're holding out hope for a full-blown indie pop renaissance emanating from New York City. "Birthday Song" is the second preview tune from the forthcoming collection Zentropy, a set of songs that is the first featuring a full-band iteration of Frankie Cosmos. Zentropy will be released as an LP by the Exploding In Sound-affiliated label Double Double Whammy March 4. The first 250 copies of the collection carried a screen-printed B-side and appear to have already sold out; another 200 pieces are pressed to white vinyl, and you can pre-order it right here. And although we do not know details and haven't yet cracked it open ourselves, fans would do well to note that Frankie Cosmos has issued what seems to be an even newer collection of recordings called Donutes, that can be snatched via Pukekos for free right here. Stream "Birthday Song" via the Soundcloud embed below. -- Edward Charlton

>> If this -- along with last year's Black Hearted Brother album -- is any indication of the way things are rolling, yesterday's indie pop and shoegaze pioneers are finding plenty of fresh inspiration in new trios that embrace collective legacies, adaptability and excitement. Here we are referring, of course, to Into The Lime, the tremendous new collection from The New Mendicants, a threesome comprising Joe Pernice (The Pernice Brothers), Norman Blake (Teenage Fanclub), and Mike Belisky (The Sadies). The set finds all three principles fluidly rotating duties while creating vibrant, cohesive work. With each successive track, it seems the band challenges itself again and again to create classic, harmony-laden pop in the vein of British Invasion bands such as The Hollies, Peter and Gordon, The Beatles pre-Revolver, and (more recently) XTC. Songs such as "Cruel Annette," "If You Only Knew Her," "High On The Skyline," and "A Very Sorry Christmas" all balance rich vocals that the light acoustic strumming, organ, and other period touches feel like the only extra weight the compositions could handle. The balance of the record emphasizes electric guitar, echoing at times Mr. Blake's Teenage Fanclub (with "Shouting Match") while coming as close to that classic band's power-pop euphoria as any combo in recent memory. Into The Lime, like BHB's Stars Are Our Home, so impressively balances the individual strengths of each band member that one can nearly cherry-pick them from any three-second clip form any song. Even so, the enthusiasm, songcraft and performances are so tight and fluid that it is hard to overstate the pop smarts at work. Perhaps the most telling gauge of success is this one: The New Mendicants on Into The Lime work free of whatever the confines of Teenage Fanclub, The Sadies or The Pernice Brothers might be, yet the disc feels like a welcome addition to any of their discographies. Buy the set from Ashmont Records right here, and stream the now seasonally inappropriate "A Very Sorry Christmas" via the Soundcloud embed below, and watch a beautiful and spare live iteration of "Follow You Down" right here. -- Edward Charlton

>> When we last tracked the arc of London shoegaze luminaries Beach Volleyball here last fall, we made sure to remark on the irony of their name, given the windswept, downcast vibe of the act's music. Now we are confronted with a second realization -- namely, that Beach Volleyball does classic, American-style shoegaze better than most American acts in the game. We're not the only ones taking a second look at the combo, as Oakland, Calif. and Berlin-based label Spiralchords announced late last month that it will reissue Beach Volleyball's full-length debut Broadcast later in February. The first teaser track from the collection this time around is "Contack," and it is a stunner. The short piece (short in shoegaze terms, anyway) is knotted and tense, and confidently arrays a driving group of chords. These bristle with texture, between the deep bass and droning, bending high notes, and the rhythm guitar's serrated tone applies an element of knife-fighting menace to the proceedings. Alex Smith's saddened drawl slips amid the textures, adding just the right pathos, contrasting against the noise rock danger and rolling drum beats. Closing with an ambient outro, the tune turns more contemplative as it slowly fades into greyscale. "Power Cuts," another pre-released tune (although, technically, all of them were "pre-released" last August), is similarly strong, and showcases again the driving snare and undulating bass of the rhythm section. These songs suggest a darker take on the early '90s, Isn't Anything-inspired rock of Americans all Lilys, She, Sir, Lorelei and The Swirlies -- bands unafraid to revel in mystery while staying true to their indie roots. Broadcast will be re-released digitally Feb. 28. Stream "Contack" below; it's not presently clear whether there will be a pre-order for the set, but keep watch at the Spiralchords Facebook page for additional release information. -- Edward Charlton

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