The Umbrellas – Write It In the Sky (Slumberland)
The young Umbrellas have really outdone themselves this time. After one single and an album, their new single Write It In the Sky reaches heights beyond anything they’ve done previously. It sounds like Sunny Sundae Smile era MBV, a dash of the noisier side of Sarah Records and some long lost paisley underground group. The guitars are buzzing, the vocals are breathless and the backing vocals are from the heavens. Singles like this will restore your faith in humanity. It did mine.
Michael Head and the Red Elastic Band – Dear Scott (Modern Sky)
Michael Head has never been one to adhere to a frantic release schedule when it comes to albums. His previous bands Pale Fountains, Shack and the Strands all had great but sporadic runs and his latest group is no different when comes to release schedule or the high quality standards he’s set with his previous groups. Dear Scott is decidedly downtrodden in nature, but beautiful in its delivery. There are well placed strings and horns that add flourishes to songs that sound well worn and comfortable and nestle themselves easily into your new set of favorite songs.
Soft Estate – The Painted Ship EP (Mammas Mysteriska Jukebox)
Soft Estate are a somewhat mysterious minimalist electronic Swedish group. There is an obvious Broadcast feel to their songs. They also remind me a little of some of the esoteric sounds that Ian Masters was involved in after he left Pale Saints. Everything here is very intriguing and on songs like Cindy you can hear their potential mastery of the moody pop song. Ones to watch, perhaps.
Flasher – Love Is Yours (Domino)
Washington, DC’s Flasher are back with album number two, but things have changed a little bit. They’re down to a duo and their songs don’t shy away from obvious infectious pop. The new LP is full of dancy pop that has saccharine elements of Ultra Vivid Scene and a bit of Unrest obtuseness with an eye to get played on the indie dance floor. Songs like I’m Better and Love Is Yours certainly deserver to get their chance to make you boogie.
Holiday Crowd – Party Favours (Shelflife)
Canada certainly has a leg up on indiepop these days. Ducks Ltd of course come to mind when you mention Toronto indie bands and the latest Holiday Crowd single jangles its way right into the conversation with its guitars that jangle and post-Smiths flamboyant melody. Holiday Crowd aren’t exactly prolific but with quality like this I’m happy to let them take their time and get it just right. Party Favours is some top shelf indiepop that shouldn’t be missed.
Boat – No Plans to Stuck the Landing (Magic Marker)
It’s so great to have BOAT back in fold after that brief hiatus in second half of the previous decade (the 2010’s to you youngsters). Their Evel Knievel themed new album is there second after regrouping for 2020’s Tread Lightly. D Crane and the fellows still have the knack for writing super catchy chest thumping songs. This one is a pandemic inspired group effort with lots of guests, many of which appeared on the group’s slopyypopstagram Instragram live video shows during the height of the pandemic. Many new BOAT classics are added to the cannon on this sprawling album. Toll Booth City and Warm Up the Choppers are quintessential BOAT, but they stretch out on Dog Days and My Haunted Friend with the help of guests like the Feelies Glen Mercer and Karl Blau.
Anteloper – Pink Dolphins (International Anthem)
Anything trumpet player Jamie Branch does is golden in my opinion. Here she teams up with a couple Tortoise alumni, Jeff Parker and Jason Nazary. I could take or leave Tortoise, with the exception of the remixes of Millions Now Living Will Never Die that appeared as Tortoise Remixed. In any event, this reinforce my original statement that Jamie Branch can do no wrong. Anteloper incorporates Branch’s envelope pushing jazz with electronics and stirs it up into a remarkable, challenging and unique musical brew.
Horsegirl – Versions of Modern Performance (Matador)
Horsegirl’s debut single Ballroom Dance last year was drop dead amazing. It sounded like they had it all figured out from the get go. The debut album is a slight disappointment if you’re measuring it against their first single. Taken by itself, Versions of Modern Performance is perfectly fine. It’s actually quite fitting that it came out on Matador. This Chicago trio of youngsters use the 90’s indie rock heyday as their touchstone and have much in common with the likes of 18th Dye, Helium, Sonic Youth and Pavement. Maybe they don’t have it all quite figured out like I initially thought, but Versions of Modern Performance is on the right track.
Sylvia Platters – Youth Without Virtue (Self Released)
I gotta hand it to our neighbors to the north, because the Canadians (see Ducks Ltd and Holiday Crowd) have cornered the market on jangly, Smiths, Bluebells, Siddeleys inspired pop. Another feather (or leaf) in the Canadian cap comes from British Columbia’s Sylvia Platters. Their newest five song EP is festooned with beautiful guitars and melodies that are inspired by the 80’s UK indie scene. Doldrums and Blue Juniper take no prisoners. I especially love how Blue Juniper effortlessly fuses in some Paisley Underground into its jangling tempest. A super fun listen.
My Life In the Sunshine – Nabil Ayers
I’ve been on a music book reading rally in the last few months. Nabil Ayers who along with Jason Ayers opened the Sonic Boom Record shop in Seattle back in 1997 is pretty well known to Seattle music folks. For those outside the Pacific NW, he also played drums in Seattle bands the Lemons, Alien Crime Syndicate and the Long Winters and is the current head of Beggars Group in the U.S. which includes the 4AD, Matador and Rough Trade labels. That’s all very interesting, but how he got there is much more interesting. His mother had a very short relationship with jazz vibraphonist Roy Ayers. It was a mutually agreed upon situation between his mom and Ayers that begat Nabil. This book is a fascinating musical journey to try and connect with his father and his father’s side of the family.