For all those that saw this in the 5 hours between when this column went live and the moment I’m typing this update right now, I’m sorry for the temporarily shitty formatting and lack of totally valuable hyperlinks but yadda yaddda yadda, we’re all good now.
And since I’m feeling terrible anyway, here’s the shameless plug for you follow the Tunes You Should Know in 2014 playlist on Spotify.
Now onto the music!
Confession: I didn’t realize who DC-based Me and Karen were when I was first listening to this album, and that’s actually a GREAT thing because I probably would have passed. I don’t remember when exactly, but I remember listening to their older material and actively disliking it (sorry “Lovers Lane”). But this EP Pink Guilt that found its way to my inbox is one of those giant leap forward kind of evolutions, like Psyduck to Golduck in Pokemon (I have no idea why that metaphor popped in my head either).
Karen Foote has taken over full reign on vocals (which is a great move, only Stars can be Stars), but more importantly, the songs are now no longer just electro-pop ballads set to Logic beats but beautiful compositions that focus more on textures than hooks. By stretching out their sonic legs, Me and Karen sound like they’re finally playing in a wide enough playground. While each track has its own distinct feel, they’re all comfortably expansive, content to go off in directions just to see what can be found there.
The album opener, “Snake Dog” could have been a much simpler, possibly more “commercial” song, but it brazenly wanders off into different moods and even time-signatures (when’s the last time you heard that move pulled in an indie pop song?). “Monster” makes those tropical bouncing synths that every band uses these days feel less annoying by throwing a distorted but not overblown (cough Sleigh Bells cough) guitar over it at times or completely delving into an almost hip-hop breakdown that only then recapitulates to its climax. It actually reminds me of fellow DC band Drop Electric, who I know are friends with Me and Karen, and I see them sharing a bill in the future (/make it happen guys).
But “Pink Gilt,” their first single, is the moneymaker, and they know it. It’s the last song on the EP, but their first single because it’s a head turner. It’s aggressive but poppy, and Karen’s voice helps flesh out a balanced, head-nodding song that makes trippy guitar solos feel catchy. It has a sweet air to it thanks to the vocals, but that jackhammer of a bass line makes it still feel exciting.
I’m honored to get to the preview the EP in its entirety in the column, and make sure to check these guys out for the official EP release show August 8th at Rock & Roll Hotel (get tickets here).
- Martha – “Dust, Juice, Bones and Hair”
Pop punk is back. This is not news. But the degree in which those nostalgic sounds are getting embraced, and what it’s doing to amplify how far these 3rd generation pop-punkers are willing to embrace that vague genre’s many forms is really fun to see.
Martha is a random band from Durham, UK that I only stumbled upon while meticulously going down NPR Music’s “50 Favorite Songs Of 2014 (So Far)” list, which is for the most part an absolutely dreadful mix of summer jams and random “it’s cool because it’s international” songs from Braziltalyvichstan.
But Martha is a sparkling, raw gem in the middle of that publicly-funded desert.
Not all their songs are good, some are downright unlistenable (here’s looking at you “Gin and Listerine”), but there’s something great about knowing there are bands like Martha out there. They’re young, they’re aware of this fact, and they steer right into the skid that is the skewed-view world of high school romance and recklessness. Only it feels like the kids are smarter about it these days, or at the very least more self-aware. Here’s a sampling of some of their lyrics:
Oh brother I would swap my Wendy House for your spud gun any day/Your clothes for my clothes, I can’t get mine dirty anyway, you see/Your football boots/My football knees/I hate the shoes they bought for me/Inside gets boring but when I showed I had an interest in Rugby/They laughed at me.
Oh sister I would love your Wendy House/But I’ll keep my spud gun for today/They don’t hear me either, I can’t get a word in edgeways, you see/My football boots/Your football knees/If you’re not too cool/Come play with me/Outside gets boring but when I asked if I could watch Sleeping Beauty/They laughed at me. But it’s alright, when no grown ups are around/You can still be Daphne and I’ll be Fred
Throw in the rambunctious instrumentation they slather on every song, and you have to admit that while it’s not perfect, there’s definitely something there. Keep them on your radar for the long haul.
- Landlady – Upright Behavior
I got turned onto Landlady by Sean Hallarman of Big Hassle, one of the few PR people out there worth trusting, but he’s got a hell of a job on his hands trying to sell this band.
Because Landlady is talented, there’s no denying that, but with Upright Behavior they made an album that is intentionally difficult to listen to. It never settles for the simple verse-chorus-verse structure and at times it almost feels too cute for its own good, with it’s rapid fire mood and tempo changes and those unique crooning vocals that at times can feel too affected.
But those are also what makes this album so special. The songs aren’t radio friendly, but they’re interesting. Even songs like “Washington State Is Important” (my personal favorite on the record) which seems fairly straightforward galavants into a breakdown with warped vocals and thunderous drums that Dan Deacon would be proud of.
Give this album at least one good listen and decide for yourself, but I’m also making the completely unqualified claim that I bet these guys are pretty great live. Luckily, they’re going to be at the Metro Gallery in Baltimore on September 7th. We should all go see them together.
And now, it’s time for a very special edition of…
BURNIN’ DOWN THE HOUSE with BYT intern Trent Burns
- “Blood” – Escapists
Escapists are still pretty green, but they’ve already put out a handful of indie/math rock gems via Soundcloud. In an overblown ocean of indie-rock, Escapists manage to float comfortably on top of the same-old same-old UK styling we’re all used to by now. The London locals elevate the basic indie-rock formula with twists of math-rock, and deploy indie-pop hooks that have a way of sticking in your head. It’s not so much that you’ll be singing “Blood” all day, but something about their sparkling guitars, punchy bass, and crisp drums will keep you coming back for more.