At only thirteen minutes, Rivals is altogether too brief foray into double-drummer math-rock. The instrumental bookends “Hero/Protagonist” and “Kurosawa” navigate deftly through peaks and valleys of compound rhythms and battling guitars, while the title track adds a burst of unbridled aggression. Serious bonus points if you pull off tandem air-drumming.
Pairing the atmospheric math-rock of June of 44’s Engine Takes to Water with spoken-word storytelling, Tundra evokes both quiet rooms and crowded streets. Pete Simonelli’s delivery spans from the impassioned howl of “New Moon” to the hushed whisper of “Four Women,” while the backing power trio matches each narrative turn.
How does Truls Heggero have such a child-like range? Why does a Norwegian group sound like a polished version of late 90s US emo? Those mysteries remain, but the ghostly charge of “Cold Numbers,” the power pop hooks of “White Shade,” and the throttling push of “Peregrin” keep me wondering.
The Biz and The Fawn are staples of languid Sunday mornings, but The Sea and Cake aim for your car stereo with the downright rocking “Aerial” and the burbling electronics of “Weekend.” No need to check your blood pressure, however, with the easy glide of “Pages” and “Fuller Moon” nearby.
Bolstered by a newfound piano presence in their three-guitar latticework, The New Year’s bookish attention to lyrical and instrumental details shines. The elegant “MMV” and the patient “Folios” excel at subdued introspection, but the spiraling leads of “X Off Days” and the rousing “The Idea of You” add welcome energy.
Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack team up for my favorite male-female duo since Folksongs for the Afterlife. Possessing back-porch charm and studio aplomb, If Children burns brightly past dusk with the affecting multi-tracked vocals of “Family Glue,” the whirring remorse of “Archaic Smile,” and the heady guitar bluster of “Warning.”
Jurado forgoes the particulars of his vignettes about Ohio and Denton, TX for uncharacteristically opaque lyrics and a more direct musical approach. “Go First” features a huge, emotional chorus, the reserved “Trials” and “Last Rights” showcase Jenna Conrad’s vocal harmonies, and “Gillian Was a Horse” adds some unexpected honky-tonk piano.
Kieran Hebden trades his jazz-influenced rhythms for 4/4 techno beats and chopped-up samples for cascading electronic leads, but this stripped-down aesthetic is deceptively detailed. “Ringer” steers swirling lines into a collision with live drums, “Swimmer” arranges its minimal elements in concentric ripples, and “Ribbons” bursts out of a heavenly dream.
Akin to family stories told from a rocking chair, Daniels’ creaky voice relays years of grieving and recovery. Fear of Flying thrives on the split between the spare “Wheelchairs” and the up-tempo “Martha Ann,” but culminates with the cathartic guitar squalor of “In My Child Mind You Were a Lion.”
This hour of cavernous dream pop and space rock proves that the title’s double echo is no typo. Every song—the bass-driven ba-ba’s of “Upper East Side,” the throttling “Sit Still,” the Tungsten74-esque title track—peeks through a fog of reverb, but Rachel Staggs’ lilting vocals float above the mist.
Returning to the lush pop of L’altra’s exquisite Different Days with a studio of talented peers, Joseph Costa delivers an assured solo debut with both compositional and lyrical depth. Vocalist Aleksandra Tomaszweska blends with Costa to marvelous effect in the longing chorus of “Snows” and the inviting “Lack of Lights.”
Fresh from Mt. St. Helens’ muscular and moody Of Others, Quinn Goodwillie trades post-hardcore aggression for indie-pop harmonies. His polished and poignant vocal hooks highlight the jaunty “Graceland Cemetery” and the achingly romantic “We Keep the Same Hours.” With this track record, expect a tight Goodwillie rap album in 2009.
Rejuvenating the long-form explorations of Young Team and the melancholic melodies of their self-titled EP, Mogwai stretches out and conquers. Loudness war reporters take notice; the throttling peaks of “I Love You, I’m Going to Blow Up Your School” and “The Precipice” would be nothing without the pin-drop quiet build-ups.
Half asleep, dreaming about 50s pop and 90s indie, Deerhunter sway from the lullaby crawl of “Twilight at Carbon Lake” and “Calvary Scars” to the tight “Never Stops” and the Polvo-esque guitars of “Nothing Ever Happened.” The occasional crests of noise—especially on the bonus album—never approach night terrors.
Ignore that infuriatingly vague title; Errors’ math-rock / acid house mash-up is downright meticulous. With the writhing surge of “Pump,” the chopped vocals of “Cutlery Drawer,” and the guitar twitch of “Toes” grappling for attention, the piano-based closer “A Lot of the Things You Don’t Isn’t” is a welcome breather.
A strangely fashionable convergence of Bloc Party’s dance-punk and Battles’ lockstep math-rock, Antidotes weaves yearning and yelping vocal hooks into a grid of interlaced guitar chimes, keyboard bleeps, and precise rhythms. Foals never resort to rote equations, demonstrated by how “Balloons” nearly explodes and “Red Socks Pugie” sighs and swells.
Rest is nothing short of an evolutionary leap for Gregor Samsa, dismissing post-rock’s dynamic shift routine for the instrumental depth of Talk Talk’s Laughing Stock. These sublimely quiet canvases allow the resonant piano chords, hushed vocals, graceful strings, and muted woodwinds of “The Adolescent” and “Pseudonyms” to echo endlessly, gloriously.
By merging Shiner’s overdriven heft (Lula Divinia three-piece era), Zoom’s long-lost left turns, and Jawbox’s melodic drive, Thinking Machines miraculously revive passionate and forceful 1990s indie rock. 12 songs in 35 minutes with zero fat, only the sweet crunch of distortion pedals on “Maze,” “Kamikaze Astronaut,” and “Love of Sea.”
Relying upon Tim Midgett’s resilient humanism and softened doses of Andy Cohen’s signature black humor, Congress is a remarkably uplifting four-song statement. Cohen’s jagged solos and Midgett’s high-fretted baritone guitar leads intertwine perfectly in the astonishing “Red Pen,” during which Midgett sings, “I just want to bombard you now.” Done.