here they are:
“Hallways” by Islands: Islands are an indie band that has been around for a long time, but haven’t gotten much attention for any particular song of theirs until now. Considering how maudlin Islands usually are, “Hallways” comes as a breath of fresh air, and that’s probably why it’s ending up being their “breakthrough” track so far. With its jaunty, piano-based sound, and a rhythm and chord progression that both seem somewhat derived from Creedence Clearwater Revival’s similarly carefree “Lookin’ Out My Back Door”, “Hallways” is not only a catchy song, but also one in which the title of it makes sense in hindsight, in that the rhythm and mood of it leave you wanting to skip and dance merrily through the “hallways”!
“Ho Hey” by Lumineers: “Lumineers” doesn’t exactly sound like the name of a part bluegrass/part indie-pop trio consisting of two men and one woman, but that’s what they are. The Lumineers manage to squeeze essential song elements like harmony, an infectious gets-stuck-in-your-head chorus (“I belong with you, you belong with me, you’re my sweet-ha-art”), and a catchy rhythm section into just two and half minutes in “Ho Hey”, which also boasts some of the most jovial, rockin’ banjos I’ve ever heard! If this song doesn’t put a smile on your face, I don’t know what will!
“It’s Time” by Imagine Dragons: Between the name of this band, and My Pet Dragon from earlier this year, I think I can officially declare that any indie/alt-pop band with the word “Dragon” in their name is pretty cool! The sound of “It’s Time” is absolutely phenomenal, especially during the verses, which seem to combine world music influenced string instrumentation with a marching band type rhythm! It sounds a bit more like a regular alt-pop song during the chorus, but by that time, the listener will probably be hooked on the song enough that it will just blend in with the rest of the song. That’s how “It’s Time” worked out for me, anyway!
“Origins” by Tennis: Along with Hockey (whose “Song Away” was one of the most successful indie/alt songs of 2010), Tennis are one of the few bands I’ve ever known to name themselves after a sport. Unlike Hockey, who had a rather Cars-ish new wave-y sound, Tennis draw inspiration more from bands of the ‘60s, like Jefferson Airplane, The Velvet Underground, and The Zombies (whose “Tell Her No” Tennis do an excellent job at covering) The lead singer of Tennis just happens to be a female with somewhat smoky, detached vocals, which makes them stand out among most contemporary bands. Even the instrumentation of this song is strikingly different, adding in a vintage ‘60s-ish organ sound and a lower than low sounding sax along with the more typical guitar/bass/drums sound. Are there any more good things about “Origins”? Yes, plenty! The lyrics are self-conscious and doubting, but written from an earnest point of view. Oh, and did I mention that lead singer Alaina Moore looks a little like Stevie Nicks?! Think we might just have a new babe in the music biz to talk about!!
“Save the Hammer For the Man” – The Nightwatchman (featuring Ben Harper): While perhaps not quite as unique in sound as the artist formerly known as Tom Morello’s “Black Spartacus Heart Attack Machine” (from late summer of last year), “Save the Hammer For the Man” is still a powerful song. Or at least it tries to be. Musically, the sound of it falls somewhat flat (until the guitar solo, that is) in comparison to Tom Morello’s material both with and without Rage Against the Machine. For Ben Harper, it’s a “somewhere in the middle” song. Ben didn’t seem to get too much into exploring the deeper, darker side of blues and rock until about 3 years ago, but he’s been remarkable at doing so. In “Save the Hammer For the Man”, Ben Harper delivers his vocals quite powerfully and convincingly, but musically, it sounds like this could have been just another pre-Relentless 7 Ben Harper song. This is definitely not a bad song, though. Once the guitar solo comes in, “Save the Hammer For the Man” picks up, not just because of the guitar solo either. It carries through stronger afterwards, both musically and vocally. And lyrically, as always, Tom Morello drives home a challenging political statement that is still well worth listening to.
“See It For Yourself” by Sugar and The Hi-Lows: Another cute female indie vocalist?! Could it be?!? Yes, it could!! “Sugar” definitely seems like a good (nick)name for the lead vocalist of this band, not only because of how she looks, but also because of how she delivers the lines of this catchy, blues-y indie rock tune, with vocals that are as sweet and honey voiced as they are sexy! The lyrics of the song almost recall the “there’s no place like home” part of “The Wizard of Oz”, with their “it was right there in front of you all along” theme. Sugar and The Hi-Lows are a pretty new band, so I don’t know the name of the lead singer (or any members) yet, but what I DO know is that she can take my ruby red slippers into the Land of Oz anytime she wants to! Yes, that was a weird attempt at innuendo, wasn’t it?! :P
“Shiny Things” by Fanfarlo: Fan WHAT now?! Well, some of you might be familiar with the song “Harold T. Wilkins” (the one that goes “They sail the same STRAIT! They sail the same STRAIT!” towards the end of it), and Fanfarlo were the ones who did that one. “Shiny Things” comes from Fanfarlo’s second record so far, and its sound is a bit of a departure from the folk-rock sound of “Harold T. Wilkins”, as it goes for more of an icy new wave type sound instead. The sound of “Shiny Things”, combined with how detached the lead singer’s voice sounds, might as well be described as “Joy Division lite”, for while the song comes nowhere near close to the intensity of the late Ian Curtis’s gloomy post-punk band, one can still detect a Joy Division type influence in this song. The video for “Shiny Things”, with its surreal, somewhat disturbing images of people getting swallowed up by gold, also sounds like an idea that’s not too far off from the typical Joy Division song. Unbelievable that the same band who did the bouncy “Harold T. Wilkins” could come up with a more cynical, cold hearted song like “Shiny Things”, but perhaps that means I could expect something different from either of those two songs from Fanfarlo sometime in the future!
“Staircase” by Radiohead: And speaking of bands with a reputation for being icy and detached, Radiohead are probably one of the first bands that come to mind when describing such a musical mood! Truth be told, Radiohead are really much more diverse than that, but, as if by coincidence (from the last song I reviewed), “Staircase” could also be said to be somewhat of a Joy Division sound-alike (though it would probably garner comparisons just as easily to bands like Depeche Mode, New Order, and Kraftwerk). In typically clever Radiohead fashion, the lyrics to “Staircase” READ like a “staircase”, in that they wind up and down continuously. Though a return to folk-rock-y Radiohead (like they did on most of “In Rainbows”) would be nice, “Staircase” isn’t bad as far as the “weirder” songs in their catalog are concerned. Only one question remains. Why did they decide to release a new song in February of THIS year, when they already did so February of LAST year?! I guess we’ll never know, will we?!?
“Untitled (Love Song)” by Counting Crows: Untitled (Love Song) is an Interesting (Piece of Music), and it’s also a Cover (Of an Obscure Indie Song). Though Counting Crows released various songs on and off throughout the 2000’s, none of them came close to what they did in the ‘90s (especially not the mucky pop version they did of the classic Joni Mitchell song, “Big Yellow Taxi”, that should have been a forgotten version of the song, but which instead comes back to haunt me in grocery stores, fast food places, and everywhere else adult cotemporary stations are played). Someone must have talked to Adam Duritz and co and convinced them to crank up the electric guitars on their latest song (which, as mentioned before, isn’t actually theirs), because it sounds closer to the gritty indie-rock sound of Ryan Adams and My Morning Jacket (with a bit of Matthew Sweet influence thrown in for good measure) than it does the folk-y post-grunge of bands like The Wallflowers and The Dave Matthews Band (both of whom were frequently compared to Counting Crows). Not only do Counting Crows have their rock ‘n’ roll groove back on “Untitled (Love Song)”, but their organ player Charlie Gillingham delivers a forceful, dynamic Hammond solo, followed in a verse or two by some of the most Neil Young-ish guitar playing Dan Vickrey has done since the ‘90s!! Welcome back guys! A million other Counting Crows fans and I have really missed the way things used to be with you guys!