Let’s get something out of the way. Darling Valley is, for all intents and purposes, Accents with a new name. That would make this LP3. Three of the four people in this band were present on the last Accents record, and there is a shared sensibility. But, let’s not dwell on the past. In fact, y’know, let’s just skip the comparisons to the older records they released as Accents. Let’s start fresh.
Darling Valley may be one of the only bands playing this kind of music that doesn’t bore me after more than a few songs. We live in a post-Decemberists world. There is no shortage of people throwing mandolins, banjos, and whatever else into their indie folk stew. It takes a lot to be engaging, and even more to be good. Crooked Orchards is as fine of a full length as any band could hope to make. The band is built around the quartet of TJ Foster, Lauren Foster, Jordan Stewart, and Ashleigh Whitfield. Like any good band, they are definitely more than a sum of their parts.
The sound of Darling Valley is rooted in folk and country. More than that, they are shining examples of Americana and roots music. They know how to work indie rock and pop influences without letting that overtake the rhythm. The songs are meticulously crafted, and exist in the little details. An example would be like how the little trumpet flourishes on “Who You Hold On To” play beautifully off the otherwise straight country vibe. The great depth the vocal melodies on “You’ll Go Far, Kid” add is another.
Crooked Orchards is a wonderfully written album with a ton a heart. The lyrical themes are what you might expect. There is love, both lost and found. There are references to literature and war. There is celebration, and there is mourning. Folk music is full of those themes. They are familiar and relatable. And, when done well, they are engaging and meaningful.
Sounds And Tones Records
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.
I love these punk rock records that aren’t afraid to dip into indie rock and emo. I know it’s been done a million times before, but I don’t give a shit. I’m a total sucker for bands that are as earnest as they are urgent. Camp Life nail that formula on An Ever-Growing Vision.
The lazy explanation is that Camp Life feel like the middle of a Venn diagram where Joyce Manor, Glocca Morra, and Dear Landlord are the established sets. An Ever-Growing Vision is just a great punk rock record from start to finish. It’s gruff and driving, but with a melodic flair. There are little bits of that old emo twinkle, albeit distorted. The lyrics definitely fit those genre norms as well. A bit of anger, a lot of apathy, and a general sense of melancholy.
I don’t know. An Ever-Growing Vision just works, and Camp Life have made a really solid debut. The whole thing clocks in at just under eleven minutes, and it is well worth the time.
Let’s start this out simply, as I’ve talked about about Save Ends a few times already. The stuff I said I loved about this band in 2012 and 2013 are the same things I love now. I don’t want to just be lazy and recycle the same talking points, so I’ll tackle this a little differently than I usually do. At least the intro paragraph anyway. I first heard Save Ends right around the beginning of 2011, maybe even at the end of 2010. The first song I heard was “The Art Of Throwing People In Volcanoes.” I don’t remember where I heard it, but I remember that I was totally into it immediately. I still get excited when that song pops up in a shuffle, on Tumblr, or whatever. That song made me want to hear more. The point I’m clumsily making is that I’ve been listening to this band for a while now. Almost as long as I’ve been doing this shitty little blog, actually. I’m always impressed by what they put out. This was true of their self released EPs, it was true of their debut LP, and it’s still true now.
The easiest way to talk about Hug Your Friends would be to place it in the band’s overall discography. It does exactly what their older records did. It builds on the strengths of all their other works. It’s why a lot of the praise you’ll see for this mirrors the praise of the older stuff. The obvious starting point is the overall sound. This band is really good at finding that great middle ground between indie rock and pop punk. Even their slowest, most reserved songs still have that heart and energy behind them. The hooks, the big choruses, whatever. All those things are on this record, but maybe a bit more restrained. The tonal shift is noticeable, especially compared to the more driving songs on Warm Hearts, Cold Hands. I’ve seen a lot of Lemuria comparisons in the press leading up to the release. To borrow from that comparison, the stylistic shift is comparable to how that band transitioned from Get Better to Pebble. The songs still have drive and energy, but the EP definitely plays in a more melancholy territory. It’s really fucking good though, and that’s what matters. Genre descriptions be damned.
i always thought the strongest thing about Save Ends has always been the vocals. I love bands that do the dual vocal thing. It’s rare to find a band where both people singing absolutely nail it. It’s a really easy thing to fuck up. That is absolutely not the case here. Christine Atturio and Brendan Cahill both sound as strong as ever. It doesn’t matter if it’s lead, back up, or wherever they are on a song. The interplay between the two is always a great thing. “I Fell Asleep” and “Love Like A Home” showcase how well their voices play off each other in a split lead situation. The songs they take the lead on individually, “Smudge” for Atturio and “Sam’s Lament” for Cahill, show how solid they are at carrying songs on their own.
Hug Your Friends is a fantastic record from start to finish. It’s clear that they’ve spent the last couple years really focusing on songwriting. Everything sounds crisp and alive. It’s everything you would expect from Save Ends.
I appreciate bands like Sick Days. Specifically, I appreciate bands that aren’t afraid to throw things against the wall and see what sticks. Stay Warm is an EP that covers three distinct sounds, but never sounds like it was just thrown together. It’s a punk rock record at it’s core, but there are some outside moments, and interesting style choices.
The EP starts with the song “Crickets.” This song exemplifies the whole nature of what would come later. It starts of with vocals and a faint, delicate guitar. Then it shifts to really muscular, start-stop riffs with yelled vocals. It eventually transitions into a fucking killer punk rock song. It tracks something like indie to emo/post-hardcore to melodic punk rock.
The next two songs, “My Old School” and “Stay Afloat,” are generally straight forward punk rock songs. The former giving me a bit of a Jawbreaker vibe, think the “With Or Without U2” medley. The last song, “DeKalb,” is just guitar and vocals for most of the song, save for the full band picking up in the last 30 seconds or so. It stays very calm and indie sounding.
What does this all mean? Well, it means that Sick Days have a whole lot going for them. They are adept at playing multiple styles, and could logically branch off further. On the other hand, they could also pick one style and run with it. They seem to have it covered either way.
Sick Days @ Bandcamp
Second Date are a young band coming out of Virginia. Their eponymous EP, also their debut, has a lot going for it. It is definitely worth some attention. They come out with a sound that takes from 90s alternative and the more modern incarnation of dream pop and shoegaze. They do it really well for the most part. “Bored” and “Ghost” are both very dynamic songs. They have a definite Lush by way of Pity Sex sound to them.
Second Date do fall into some common traps though. This is hardly unexpected for the genre, especially given their pop influence. “Flake” is the most obvious example. It’s not a bad song, but not as strong as the other two. It lacks a bit of bite, due to slightly weaker lyrics and some strange music choices. It has this weird funk-esque guitar line and a really out of place solo at the end.
That bullshit aside, Second Date is promising band that has a bright future. There are some things they can improve on, but there are also things that they’re totally nailing. But, y’know, that is a common thing for young bands.
I’m keeping this list brief this year. Not too many bells and whistles, or whatever. It’s the end of January, so I really need to just post it. 2015 was a weird fucking year, and I didn’t keep up with this stuff the way I should have. 2016 should be better. Anyway, on with the list.
Top Records of 2015. LPs, EPs, and splits. In alphabetical order:
- Adult Mom – “Momentary Lapse Of Happily”
- Annabel – “Having It All”
- Beach House – “Depression Cherry”
- Big Awesome – “Party On”
- Blind Mice – “Sunday Songs”
- Bong Mountain – “You’re Doin’ Great”
- Drowse – “Soon Asleep”
- Football, etc. – “Disappear”
- Haybaby – “Sleepy Kids”
- Island Of Misfit Toys – “I Made You Something”
- Jennylee – “Right On!”
- Kindling – “Galaxies”
- King Woman – “Doubt”
- Kind Of Like Spitting / Warren Franklin & The Founding Fathers – “It’s Always Nice To See You”
- Long Knives – “This Is Your Life”
- mewithoutYou – “Pale Horses”
- Pet Symmetry – “Pet Hounds”
- Sheer – “Uneasy”
- The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die – “Harmlessness”
- The Unlovables / Dirt Bike Annie – “Reunion Show”
- Waxahatchee – “Ivy Tripp”