Haybaby is one of those bands that defy classification. They’ll come out of left field with something whenever you start to pigeonhole them. Blood Harvest only further solidifies that. Sleepy Kids was definitely a standout record of 2015, and Blood Harvest is definitely my favorite thing of 2016 so far. To borrow a sports journalist buzzword, this band has ridiculous depth. It’s not every band that can follow a Pixies-esque alt/indie song with a fucking hardcore rager. The beauty of Blood Harvest is there in the little things. It’s the way everything builds up great atmosphere. It’s a little sludgy sounding, it’s got kind of a sinister vibe, and it all fucking works.
My favorite thing about Haybaby is the way they’ve built this record. Like, ok. “Stupid” opens the record. It’s musically very sparse. It’s primarily being driven by Sam Yield’s bass and Jeremy Duvall’s drums. Leslie Hong’s guitar only really come into play around the hook. “Joke/Rope” has a similar vibe, but the guitar drives it a little more. It’s considerably less sparse. “Kramer/Dreams” builds further on that pattern. It employs the strong rhythm section, but it adds some very Pixies-esque guitar. Then all hell breaks loose on “What It Is.” It’s dense, aggressive, and vicious as fuck. Everything get reined in ever so slightly, and tension builds to it’s release by the time “Pig” closes the record. That is really an oversimplification though. Even the calmest and most atmospheric song can get angular and arty or disjointed and uncomfortable. It’s like a picture perfect combination of early 90s grunge/alternative and post-hardcore. The band really knows how to get that perfect rise and fall working.
Leslie Hong’s voice is totally integral to this record. She has a great range. She can sing very delicately, she can belt out, and she can yell. Anything the songs need, she can do it. I think my favorite kind of vocal on Blood Harvest is when she has this very dry, almost blasé delivery. That kind of things is on here quite a bit, on “Stupid” and “Joke/Rope” especially. Her vocals, like the band in general, seem to thrive in the genre blurring state of flux.She absolutely nails everything from start to finish.
It’s pretty easy to see the passion this band has. Haybaby just keep getting better.
One of the downsides to being a shitty 30 year old is that I remember the 90s. This has made the latest trend of bands playing 90’s alternative influenced music a bit challenging. It’s music I’m hyper familiar with, as it was music I grew up with. I definitely have blindspots, but those have been filled in over the years. Bands like Sheer are really interesting to me. I see what they are doing, and it hits all the marks I want to see a band hit. They manage to take influence without being derivative and repetitive.
Coming strong right out the gate, Sheer play shoegaze/dream pop filtered through fuzzy alternative. There are similarities to bands like Lush and Galaxie 500. There is some Jesus And Mary Chain and The Breeders in there too. They take those influences and put their own heart behind it. Uneasy, as a record, is a great melding of the past and the present. But, that is really a roundabout way of describing sound. More simply, there is a great mixture of dense, thick guitars and more delicate, melodic ones. The guitar never gets too heavy on the old shoegaze shimmer. The sound is more reverb/distortion heavy than it is clean and swirling. Outside of that, there aren’t too many additional effects being used. “Orion” is probably the best example of things. The songs has a very powerful and dense build, it then hits a very melodic tone. The song shifts between the two extremes in a really great way. The vocals are also a strong selling point to me. Gina Almaguer has a great voice, and she can shift from strong/clear to the more genre standard “ethereal” vocals pretty seamlessly.
Sheer needs to get a lot of credit for making such a well worn genre sound crisp and clear. Gina Almaguer and Sean Sakamoto absolutely nail things on the guitar front. Anthony Quintero on bass and Jules Leon on drums keep everything on point and driving along. Uneasy is a record that shows a band working as a cohesive unit to make music that can get a bit loose and messy in less knowledgeable hands.
This is a record that has endless appeal to fans of all kinds of music. It takes a little from alternative, indie, shoegaze, and classic left-of-the-dial bands. It’s great, don’t sleep on it.
The Native Sound
There is a lot of music in the world to draw inspiration from. Every music scene comes from somewhere, and it always leads to somewhere. Alternative rock is a great example. You can track that genre back to it’s roots in punk rock. It gets a bit muddy thanks to the whole alt rock explosion in the 90s, but it’s possible. Due to the genre’s history, it makes sense that certain strains of underground music still take influence from that mainstream sound.
Blind Mice are an example of that influence being used in the best way. They are able to take influence from the punk and emo scene circa the early 2000s, and mix and meld it with alternative rock from the late 1990s. At the risk of this review becoming a bunch of shitty comparisons, the resulting sound is something like “Polar Bear Club and Brandtson filtered through Third Eye Blind and Nada Surf.” It’s a combination that works extremely well, and keeps things interesting. Blind Mice are really adept at playing up these influences without sounding derivative or unfocused.
Sunday Songs is an EP that has a sincerity that shines through on every song. It’s packed with great riffs, great hooks, and energy. Even a song like “Barbara’s Bar,” which has the slowest pace, excels at being a great pop song. The lyrics are very earnest, and cover everything from growing up in a family of divorce, addiction, and feeling stuck in a specific time or place. “Home Movies” and “Drifter” are prime examples.
Sunday Songs is a record that has a very nostalgic tone to it, but never falls in the trap of being one of “those” records. A lot of bands who try to do this kind of thing end up sounding like shitty throwbacks, Blind Mice do not. This is the kind of EP that anyone can get stoked about.
Animal Style Records
Bandcamp / Buy It
I always think that indie rock gets a bad rap. In both underground music and mainstream culture. So much of it has been designated as music for hipsters in wayfarers who dress like they live in the dust bowl with ironic moustaches. It does a disservice to the bands who make the music. There is still a lot of genuineness in the genre. No matter what the jaded music fans say. There is also still a lot of life in the genre. There are countless bands and records to prove it. Russell And The Wolf Choir represent that. The Ivy Leaf Agreement is an EP that, while hitting a lot of the genre’s touchpoints, has a lot to like.
The Ivy Leaf Agreement is an EP that falls under the umbrella of indie rock, but there are also twinges of other influences. There is some country, there is some pop, and it generally hits all the right spots when it comes to existing in that style. It might not be terribly groundbreaking, but it is enjoyable. The biggest “sounds like” I can think of would be Kevin Devine or On A Wire era Get Up Kids. Especially on a song like “This Fall I Think That You’re Riding For.” It has a driving rhythm behind it, but a very distinct country vibe to it as well. That same kind of indie/country shows up on most of the songs. The inclusion of lap steel really makes everything stand out to me.
It’s really an EP that presents the total package. The songwriting is genuine and earnest. It’s down to earth, it simple. There are no shortage of bands writing obtuse bullshit, and it’s great to see something else. These are great songs about love and loss. Like, “The Evening Wore On Part 1” tells a very concise story of a changing relationship. One of drifting apart from someone you were close to, but still desperately wanting them. All filtered through getting drunk at a party.
Everything builds perfectly to the closing song, “Ivy Leaf Agreement.” At almost eight and a half minutes, it captures everything that is great about this EP. Delicate guitars, excellent songwriting, and a general sense of purpose. It’s finding something meaningful in everyday minutiae that makes this record comfortable and engaging. Russell And The Wolf Choir have crafted a great record from front to back.
Russell And The Wolf Choir
Hearts & Stars Records
Music is hard to really critique when there is any level of nostalgia involved. It’s almost impossible to be unbiased in some way. Instantly there is a bit of a taint to it. It reminds you of something you already like or dislike, and then you have to overcome that bias. Otherwise, it just makes you think of things you already listen to, and there is a non-stop comparison. It’s ultimately not fair to what you are listening to. That is the main problem I’ve had with Viewfinder. They are a very talented band, but so much of my opinion of them is filtered through something else.
In general terms, Viewfinder is a band that is rooted in old alternative and college rock. Do You Even Want Anything? is a record that, if released 25 years ago, would have been a cutting edge release. Viewfinder share a lot of sonic similarities to Dinosaur Jr, Pavement, or the Lemonheads. They make music that is heavily distorted while maintaining a pop sensibility that shines through. “Orbs And Ooze” is a great example of what the band brings to the table. It’s a song that is built around a pretty simple, driving riff. The great vocal hooks in the chorus makes it really enjoyable.
The rest of the record plays very similar. The choruses are huge, the riffs are strong, and songs are the type that will stick in your head. The production is also perfect for the genre. Lo-fi enough to add character, but polished enough to makes everything pop. Songs like “Out Of Sight” and “Stroke Of Genius” show the strength of that approach.
Do You Even Want Anything? can get a bit throwback-y in places. Viewfinder are certainly talented enough to not let it stay that way too long. If you want a quick blast of nostalgia, then this record is for you. On the other hand, this record is also for you if you like good songs that have a lot of heart. Either way, give it a go.
Self Aware Records
I hate indie rock. No, that’s not true. I hate how “indie rock” has become shorthand for some really generic, boring bullshit. There are a million “indie rock” bands in the world, and it is so hit or miss. My immediate opinion of twothirtytwo was that, honestly, they could have gone either way. To lazily classify the band as one thing or another, twothirtytwo are an indie/alternative band who are pulling some moves from post-punk. The good news is that they are pulling the right ones.
The Hope We Had is the latest in a series of singles and EPs the band has put out. Having done a bit of a crash course of their older releases, I can say confidently that It is also probably their best work to date. The music sounds better. The production is better. While they may have lost some of the “punk” from the post-punk, it still works beautifully. This is an EP, and band, that would fit into a Venn diagram of bands like Joy Division, We Were Promised Jetpacks, Interpol, and The Killers. While those comparisons would work for the music as well, they are especially true for the vocals. Andrew Clift has a voice that is deeper than the genre standard. It has a more baritone timbre to it. His vocal delivery plays perfectly for this.
As an overall record, The Hope We Had is accessible enough to play for fans of music played on alternative radio. It also has enough interesting things happening to appeal to your standard, snobby indie fan. It is very much a column A, Column B type record. The first three songs cruise along, and a pretty standard genre fare. Things really get interesting on titular track, “The Hope We Had.” That song really allows the entire band to flex their musical muscle. The guitar interplay is perfect, the rhythm section holds steady. There is even a pretty sweet solo in there. It is a song that shows how much the band is capable of.
There was a lot being stacked up against twothirtytwo. They are in a pretty packed genre, and needed to make something really great to stand out from the pack. They pretty much nailed it.
Rose Coloured Records
**Record will be out on September 8, 2014**
Playing emo music in 2014 has to be kind of hard. The market is flooded. There are a million bands playing every conceivable variation of the genre that exists. This is both a blessing and a curse for new bands. On the plus side, it is easy to just jump in and get carried away in the stream. In opposition, it is also a distinct possibility that no one will hear/give a shit about your band. It is in this atmosphere that Serpents are releasing their debut EP, Everything I’ve Had, I’ve Lost.
Serpents are a band that plays melodic emo (with tiny touches of alternative). They are pretty adept at it too. All seven songs on this EP have enough energy to work. The music, though a bit disjointed, adds a fair amount of texture. The vocals are very much of the hardcore family. Yelled, strained, and with some breaks here and there. The music is decidedly not hardcore. It, for the most part, plays more calm and even. It works pretty well, but it does have some issues.
The biggest issue is that the record, for as good as it is, doesn’t sound very good. The production, in my opinion, is a little wanting. The guitar gets lost in the mix and the drums sound flat. This record would have benefitted greatly from some beefed up production. I mean, the vocals are there. Serpents need to let the music have a similar sense of muscle and aggression.
This isn’t to say that they should go full screamo band or whatever. Their current style is great. They just need to tighten it up, and get production that does it justice. Serpents is a band with a lot of promise. They have a lot of raw potential. Everything I’ve Had, I’ve Lost is definitely rough around the edges, but all the pieces are there.