Tag Archives: indie pop

The Sum of Molly Nilsson’s “Imaginations” are a Revelation

Molly Nilsson, Imaginations (Night School/Dark Skies Association)


“On and on/some things are stopping us from proving them wrong/when they tell you the skies are grey/but looking through a glass of rosé/the skies are clearly pink”

Molly Nilsson is a musician/vocalist/producer originally hailing from Stockholm but now based in Berlin.  Imaginations is her seventh full-length release (to go with a few EPs and singles).

Throwback 80s signifiers abound on Imaginations, but it doesn’t feel derivative.  Rather, it’s an absolutely mesmerizing collection of pop music that’s only ‘indie’ in the sense that it’s likely far too interesting to be played on commercial radio.

Much of 80s popular culture – music, film, video – depicted the accumulation, loss and/or showing off of stuff – status as a means of seduction.  Having lived through it, I know there was depth there for those who sought it out, but such is the collective remembrance that much of what is retained is the Rolex, the Armani suit, the several car garage as the means to whatever end.  Much of what makes Imagination’s use of many of the musical signposts of this indulgence is their contrast when applied to a modern reality derived, in part, from their consequences.  Songs like “Inner Cities”, “Money Never Dreams” and “Think Pink” feel Springsteenian in their uplifting portraiture of the realities of everyday life, but without teetering into mawkish platitude (pay attention, Killers).  Elsewhere, tracks like opener, “Tender Surrender”, “Memory Foam” and “American Express” exude enough Avalon worthy swank and sultriness to make a pro blush.  But where the suavity of the saxy sax and the glassy chords can often ring hollow, marrying it to Nilsson’s at times raw, often wry, lyricism makes it genuine.  Here, the personal is political, either by encouraging a change of perspective on the grey “inner cities of our lives” by “looking through a glass of rosé” (“Think Pink”), or eschewing ‘champagne, caviar and bubble baths’ for “McDonald’s in bed” (“American Express”).

This is what makes Imaginations so enticing – it’s icy, cool-as-fuck pop veneer belying a warmth, a humanity (Book of Love, a personal fave from back when, was brought to mind).  It’s pop music that likely won’t be anywhere near as popular as it should be.  Borrowing from the title of a track from Nilsson’s 2010’s album, Follow the Light, these are songs they won’t be playing on the radio.  But they should, damn it, they should.

Imaginations is out now, courtesy of the fantastic Night School label and Nilsson’s own Dark Skies Association.  Tour dates are up on Nilsson’s fbook page.

Highlights include: “Memory Foam”; “Tender Surrender”; “Think Pink”; “Modern World”.

Laurie Spector’s Debut as Hothead Hits All the Right Notes

Hothead, S/T (Sister Polygon)

Hothead is the solo alter ego of songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Laurie Spector, who has played in DC bands like Gauche, Foul Swoops and Chain and the Gang.  Her Hothead debut (released on cassette by the fantastic Sister Polygon) contains seven tracks, including a cover of “You Should All be Murdered” by Sarah Records sly indie pop titans, Another Sunny Day.

The cover choice feels apropos, since standout tracks here like “How It Goes” conjure up the same emotions, with jangle perk offsetting the more acerbic lyrical aspects.  Spector’s Hothead arrangements, though, are less wide-eyed, with each track smothered under a heavy cloak of reverb.  Spector sings withering kiss offs to “disaffected pseudo intellectuals” (“Rocco”) and and those for whom she “feel[s] nothing in love” (“Inside Loop”) at times  with a kind of drunken snarl, her voice buried deep in the mix (even when accompanied solely by acoustic guitar on the strummed ballad, “Marilyn”, her voice sounds like it’s coming from a different room).

Musically, in addition to indie jangle-pop, there’s shades of 70s AM rock (which, in turn, brings in aspects of folk and bluesy country) and power pop.  Add in some playful ornamentation (“Hothead” (the closing track) features what sounds like a recorder(?); “Rocco”, handclaps) and some eye moistening melodies – seriously, we double dog dare you to listen to the chiming guitar leads in “How It Goes” or “Inside Loop” without a wistful smile filling your face – and what you have is an immensely satisfying listen.  Is “lo-fi power pop” an oxymoron? Maybe, but who cares when it’s this good.

The self-titled album is out now, and is available digitally on Bandcamp (tapes are sold out).  A tour is also imminent (though, sadly, not near us *sniff*), so go say ‘hello’ if you’re in the area – dates here.  There are also some great discussions with Spector on the ideas and processes behind the album, courtesy of Impose Magazine and WAMU’s bandwidth.fm.  Check ‘em out.

Highlights include: “Inside Loop”, “How It Goes”.

London’s Girl Ray Added to Moshi Moshi Singles Club, Share “Trouble”

Cover art for Girl Ray's "Trouble" single.

Cover art for Girl Ray’s “Trouble” single.

Girl Ray, “Trouble/Where Am I Now?” (Moshi Moshi Singles Club)

Girl Ray are a three-piece based out of (North) London.  They’ve only been releasing music for a titch over a year now, gathering ‘blog hype’ (sorry, we’re late to the party) and scoring a session with venerable BBC6 deejay – and former Fall guy – Marc Riley.  New single, “Trouble”, is due November 25 through the Moshi Moshi Singles Club.

Both “Trouble” and its b-side “Where Am I Now?” have a timeless quality that makes it hard to attach to a particular era or sound – there’s elements of 60s and 70s ballady power pop, as well as 80s and 90s indie.  Each feature Poppy Hankin’s genial, yet insouciant lead vocals (her phrasing evokes folks like Nico, Laetitia Sadier and Euros Childs from Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci – a stated influence of the band), combined with sun-dappled harmonies over mellow, indie pop grooves.  For a band apparently so young, there’s an assuredness on display that borders on the frightening.  Can’t wait to hear more.

So, next steps, then:

a.  pre-order your limited edition 7” vinyl copy of “Trouble” via Moshi Moshi, here;
b.  check out more of Girl Ray on fbook, twit, and Soundcloud;
c.  while on step “b”, make certain you also flatter your ears with the previously released tracks “I’ll Make This Fun” (personal fave) and “Ghostly”;
d.  watch the video for “Where Am I Now?”, courtesy of the good folks over at Brooklyn Vegan.

Make Contact with Rose Elinor Dougall on “Stellular”

Artwork for "Stellular", the new album from Rose Elinor Dougall.

Artwork for “Stellular”, the new album from Rose Elinor Dougall.

Rose Elinor Dougall, “Stellular” (Vermilion)

We’ve made no secret here at thegrindinghalt of our admiration for Rose Elinor Dougall (it’s been mentioned here, and there).  It’s embarrassing, really.  Except it isn’t, damn it, because she’s just that good.

Dougall’s voice has an effortlessness that’s enthralling.  It reminds of singers like Tracey Thorn – ostensibly pop singers, the restraint in the vocals provides an extra dimension/gravitas/oomph (call it what you will) that elevates from the typical boring and overworked pap on the radio (insert music critic diatribe re: “popular” music in 3, 2, yawn…).

Which brings us, then, to her new solo track.  “Stellular” – which serves as the title track/lead single to a new album – is a heady, uptempo blend of new wave, Motown and psych that matches the extraterrestrial vibe of the lyrics (and official video, which you can watch below).  It’s deserving of a close up – and radio play.  Make it so.

“Stellular”, the album, is due in January from Vermilion Records, and is available for preorder from Rough Trade here (in the UK) or on iTunes.  In the meantime, Ms. Dougall can be followed on many of the usual points in our collective social ether.  She also has a show upcoming at The Victoria in London, if you are fortunate enough to live in the area.

Check the Snide Jangle of “Around the House”, by Chook Race

Members of Melbourne, Australia's Chook Race, at rest.

Members of Melbourne, Australia’s Chook Race, at rest.

Chook Race, Around the House (Tenth Court/Trouble In Mind, 9/2/2016)

Chook Race are a three-piece hailing from Melbourne, Australia (fun fact: “chook” is, according to my online sources, an Aussie slang term for a hen, a woman or the sound made to call the former).  Around the House is the band’s latest long-player, and it’s a fantastically catchy collection of sharp, lo-fi pop.

On Around the House, Chook Race channel the energies of 80s and early 90s purveyors of jangle pop, caustic lines delivered by vocalist/guitarist Matt Liveriadis – at times in ‘boy/girl’ harmony with drummer Carolyn Hawkins (who takes on lead vocal duties on several tracks) – ‘neath the glint of ringing guitar tones and vibrant drum and bass.  Liveriadis has the kind of deadpan voice which recalls folks like David Gedge and Eugene Kelly, perfect for withering lines like “sometimes, I get tired/oh and sometimes, I get sick/…of you” (“Sometimes”).  The tossed-off, charmingly ramshackle sonic touchstones are warmly familiar, and include bands like The Vaselines, The Clean, The Pastels.  Album highlight, “Lost the Ghost”, has a riff that kept pinging around in my brain until I decided it sounded like early REM – or maybe something by The Only Ones – I couldn’t decide; but I was too busy bopping along to care.  Standing on (sloped) shoulders they may be, but the tunes Chook Race create are undeniable and worthy of repeated listen.

Around the House is out now, courtesy of Tenth Court (in Australia, New Zealand and Japan) and Trouble In Mind (everywhere else) – or straight from the band on their Bandcamp page. Catch up with Chook Race (sorry) on fbook, on tour, and peep the indie pop aerobicise on disply in the video for lead track, “Hard to Clean”, (below).

Highlights include:  “Lost the Ghost”, “Sometimes”, “At Your Door”, “Hard to Clean”

Something Borrowed, Something New: Anywhere, from Chicago’s Cassettes on Tape

Cassettes on Tape, Anywhere (self-released, 7/14/16)

We love a band that wears their influences proudly.  Cassettes on Tape is a four-piece hailing from Chicago, with a declared fondness for “shoegazy guitars and new wavey hooks”.  On their new long-player, Anywhere, the band stays true to their school(s).

Anywhere finds the band taking a musical journey through mid-80s to mid-90s indie music, recalling everything from 80s ‘college radio’, new wave, shoegaze, early 90s indie pop and even britpop.  It’s a wide range of (admittedly intertwined) sounds, and the band pulls it off by writing hook-filled tunes played with a super-charged emotion.  Jangling, resonant guitars courtesy of lead guitarist Shyam Telikicherla build epic sound scapes to match the dramatic vocals of singer Joe Kozak, who comes off like a cross between Suede’s Brett Anderson (minus the falsetto) and a less raspy Richard Butler of the Psych Furs.  Songs like album highlight “Shattered” manage to marry 80s indie restraint to Britpop rafter rattling, while “Modern Love” carries an “I Am the Resurrection” shuffle.  While the hi nrg tracks are great, the lovely slow burn of “Diamonds” and “Liquid Television” (above) are equally satisfying.  Great stuff.

Anywhere is out now, and available through the Cassettes on Tape Bandcamp page.  You can also check them out on the fbook, the twit and Instagram (don’t have a ‘witty’ shortcut reference for that one…yet).  The band also have a show coming up on August 5 at the Bottom Lounge in Chicago – check it out if you’re local.

Review: Vanishing Twin, The Conservation of Energy

Vanishing Twin, “The Conservation of Energy” (Soundway Records)

“The Conservation of Energy” is a slice of breezy, psych-flecked sophisti-pop (so many hyphens!) courtesy of London’s Vanishing Twin (formerly known as Orlando, also the name of the band’s lead singer).  There’s a strong whiff of gauloises, drawing in the flavors of bands like St. Etienne, Stereolab, Broadcast, and The Style Council.  Featuring a gentle breeze of a drum beat, organ, flute, and Orlando’s shimmery vocals, the track weaves a continental drift through a sun-dappled, pastoral jazz-folk vibe, with the lyrics’ natural imagery – matter, flowing seas – adding to the languid feel.  The song streches its legs into an absolutely blissful, wordless middle third at around the 2:30 mark, before returning to the main melody.  While a rather abrupt fade out breaks the spell.

Psych-pop bliss.

“The Conservation of Energy” is taken from Vanishing Twin’s to be released debut album, due on Soundway Records in September according to their PR group. You can find the band on fbook and also on Soundcloud, with Orlando’s earlier releases available on this Bandcamp page.

Track Review: S A Reyners, Saturday Afternoon

S. A. Reyners, “Saturday Afternoon” (Self Released, 7/11/2015)

A jaunty slice of quirky, melodic, sophisticated pop from S A Reyners, Wellington, New Zealand’s own “one man band” (though drums here are credited to Kiel Feher).

Reyners cites, as influences, bands like Sparks and Aztec Camera.  These come through loud and clear on “Saturday Afternoon”, the second single from a soon to be released debut EP of the same name – the former in his vocal range and phrasing (which also recalls Matt Johnson of The The); and both in stylistic mish mash of the arrangement, which recalls the 80s integration of tropicalia and Caribbean music, as well as 60s style r&b.

I also a heard a fair amount of bands like Orange Juice and Haircut 100, in both the track’s breezy, effortless charm, as well as the sly wit and wordplay of the lyrics, describing the high of chancing upon an attractive girl you’d seen on the street at a local bar, followed swiftly the low of discovering she’s there with her soon to be fiancé.

Here’s hoping more pearls from EP are cast soon.  In the meantime, check M. Reyners on his Facebook page, on Soundcloud and on Bandcamp.