best-emerging-bands-artists

Songs of Summer #2: My Idea drops ad-libs all over debut single

For the second entry in our Summer Songs series, despite today being a very un-summery day in New York City, we submit to you “Stay Away Still” by the musical duo known as My Idea (that’s their name I’m not trying to imply it was my idea) a song that’s got a buoyant bounce in its step and a sunny disposition—not to mention an accompanying music video shot against a bright blue sky with My Idea’s two bandmates making their way across various city locales like silver painted rooftops (discuss: why are so many NYC rooftops painted silver?) and shimmering bodies of water and perilous looking radio control towers, which are all good places to hang on a pleasant summer day but please be careful on those radio towers you’ve probably had a few already today or maybe even a few too many. And even if upon closer inspection the lyrics are a little bit dogmatic in their strictly enforced state of happiness, or perhaps even a bit paranoid like in the opening lines which all but insist that a laughing friend is crying on the inside and then move on to blanket statements like “why so sad bitch / depression’s a conspiracy theory”—but when we’re coming out of a bummer of a summer like the one in 2020 it’s not easy to properly enjoy the presence of “friends and animals and family” without a little paranoia and dogmatism creeping into the picture as reasonable defense mechanisms just in case things fly off the rails again in every conceivable way.

And that’s not even to mention how the song continually deconstructs it’s own aforementioned sunny disposition (grr) with a point-counterpoint vocal (racks on racks) in which the narrator is constantly confronted (pew-pew-pew) by a monotone inner voice (damn, damn) casting doubt on every single line of the song (in your face) but again not entirely unwarranted (winning) given what we’ve all been through lately (bad). And anyway when it comes to summer song vibes (drank) it’s notable that “Stay Away Still” (Draco) shares a number of qualities in common (brrah) with Migos’ “Bad and Boujee” (dope)—and ok so that song was originally released in the fall (glah) but hey stick with me here (hey) because I’ll bet that you hear the Migos track (drop top) at least once at an outdoor barbecue this summer (whoo) when people are feeling all nostalgic (run with it) for the halcyon innocence of five years ago (lock up)—the biggest one being the aforementioned inner voices (private) which comes off (thot) like a cascading series of ad-libs (dab) delivered by Quavo, Offset, Takeoff, and Lil Uzi Vert (gang) which in other words (word) are a series of parenthetical asides (improvise) and exclamations (yah! yah! yah! yah!) that break up the main lyric (blaow) by repeating or riffing on (savage) the directly preceding lines (call and response) and ok I’ll stop with the ad-libs now (skrrt) because it may be annoying when I do it (nobody).

Plus, the main theme explored in “Stay Away Still” is quite similar to the lines heard in the chorus of “Bad and Boujee” where Offset says “call up the gang and they come and get ya (gang) / cry me a river, give you a tissue (hey)” where he dismisses the crocodile tears of his lady friend and makes clear he won’t be held back by such overly dramatic sadness. And whereas Quavo “float(s) on the track like a Segway,” lead singer/backing vocalist Lily Konigsberg brags about “dream(ing) in straight lines (you can?) / goal achieved by the time I open my eyes (that’s pretty fucking weird)” culminating in a rapid fire chant of the title phrase “Stay Away Still” that nearly turns those three words into one single syllable not unlike Little Uzi Vert’s heavily meme-ed “yah! yah! yah! yah!” And just in case you’ve read this far and you were wondering, My Idea is comprised of Lily Konigsberg (Palberta) and Nate Amos (Water From Your Eyes, This is Lorelei, Opposites) and their stated mission statement (redundant) is to create “bite-sized pop experiments…over tightly wound indie rock” (sounds good) if their official Bandcamp page is to be believed (industry plant) which creates a nice tension-and-release effect (skeet skeet) but luckily they’re here to remind us that summer fun (surfs up) will be even more fun (fun! fun! fun! fun!) when set to a bitchin’ summer tune (Bangles/Avril Lavigne) about self-reliant happiness (quarantine) and staying the hell away from other people. (Jason Lee)

   

Geese take flight with "Disco" demolition

On their debut single “Disco,” the Brooklyn five-piece Geese depicts a dark night of the soul at the disco and on the home front too—fatalistic imagery abounds in the lyrics which may signify a waning relationship or may signify, well, the fatalism of death—that ends up with the narrator getting a drink thrown in his face and dancing along in an empty house, backed by layers of tense intertwining guitars and metronomically repetitive melodies all anchored to a steady pulsing “Psycho Killer” type beat—it's damn near funky in a high-tensile wire kind of way, but try dancing in asymmetric alternating 7/4 and 6/4 time signatures and you may sprain something—so that in the end “Disco” comes off something like Talking Heads meets Philip Glass meets Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” and hey that latter disco crossover hit had a 7/4 part in it so there you go (note: some music theory knowledge is required for this post). Anyway, it’s a fairly ambitious song to get off the ground with and that’s not even to mention it’s almost seven minutes long, building up and stripping away and building up new musical layers throughout (“I return to the dirt / and then I rise again”), or that it ends with a dubby outro part that winds down like a dying music box in its final moments.

So no telling where Geese will go from here but at least we know where they’ve started and that “Geesus Has Risen”.

   

UgLi blur the line between DTF and WTF on heavy AF debut album

The South Jersey/Philadelphia-based band UgLi unabashedly bash out ‘90s style alt rock with panache—but still their music feels uniquely relevant to right now and it rocks hard enough to be relevant to any era.

Taking a genre (grunge) originally associated with flannel-wearing, chainsaw-wielding, primal-screaming lone-wolf types, the Philly foursome uses it to address topics like mental health afflictions, gender fluidity, body dysmorphia, medication overutilization, and the pure unadulterated joy of a new love. Surprised you with last one, huh? And while in reality grunge was always pretty multifaceted (oddly enough it only became less so in the later ‘90s morphing into rap-rock, nü-metal, and post-grunge all culminating in the nightmare of Woodstock ‘99) and it’s always included great female musicians (L7 easily rocks just as hard as Soundgarden) but in 1992 it was still necessary for a certain “sad little sensitive Pisces man” to put a not-unsubstantial contingent of his own band’s fans on blast in the liner notes to the Incesticide comp:

“If any of you in any way hate homosexuals, people of different color, or women, please do this one favor for us—leave us the fuck alone! Don't come to our shows and don't buy our records.”

UgLi could in this way be considered the culmination of Kurt’s wishes, and one can only hope that in between floating around and hanging out on clouds that somewhere up there he’s looking down pretty happy about it. Because as a band that’s otherwise made up of three pretty average looking rock dudes (no offense guys!) UgLi is fronted by co-guitarist, vocalist, and primary songwriter Dylyn Durante who also happens to identify as a queer trans woman. So when she sings lines like “How would you find love / you don’t fit in the box / you’re mixing colors and shapes / I think you need to get off” (“Why Be Pretty…when you could be free”) it speaks not only to the youthful alienation of grunge-loving kids across a couple generations but also to a very specific situation—a situation driven home by the tight instrumental work of co-guitarist Andrew Iannarelli, bassist Lucas Gisonti, and drummer Teddy Paullin who pushes the album forward with Jimmy Chamberlin levels of energy.

Wait, what album? The track above plus seven others make up the band’s first full-length on the self-released FUCK, which at first glance may come off as a blunt, simple-minded attention grabber of a title. But when you break it down “fuck” is actually one of the more nuanced and versatile words in the English language given its dozens of potential meanings, ranging from a modifier used to add emphasis (“no fucking way!”) to a single-word exclamation indicating anger or disgust; ranging from the sensual physical union of two or more human beings to the state of being badly damaged or even ruined. And on FUCK, Dylyn covers all these meanings and more in songs where she “gets fucked” in every possible sense, and in songs where the band modifies the grunge formula to fit their own means—adding musical flavors ranging from the proggy side of the alt-rock spectrum (e.g., the Pumpkins/Radiohead-esque “Bad Egg” which deals with the difficulties of transitioning) to the dreamy chamber pop turned shoegazy slowcore rock ballad of the eight-plus-minute closer “Naegleriasis” with it’s vibey vibraphone and hazy horn section played in waltz time.

And finally, when it comes to the exclamatory qualities of FUCK, the record benefits greatly from the aforementioned intricate arrangements and the impressively warm/crisp/clear yet crunchy/dirty/overdriven production work on the album—produced in collaboration with Dave Downham at Gradwell House in Haddon Heights, New Jersey (Dave is credited with recording, mixing, and mastering the album alongside a full production credit on “Naegleriasis”) and I’m guessing that Butch Vig may be feeling just a little bit jealous now reading this. So whether you consider yourself a “House Pet” (“Nobody taught me how to care / I think I should’ve picked it up somewhere”) or a “Bad Egg” (“I’m searching for that high note / grasping for survival / well, what the fuck do I know”) you may want to follow the former song’s advice to “shimmer while you can” because the album itself follows this advice and it seems to work out pretty well. (Jason Lee)

   

Airspace takes you "All The Way Up"

On this the day when our nation celebrates its proud history of annual mattress sales and of drunkenly blowing off one’s own digits while setting off small incendiary devices purchased in Pennsylvania, music is a crucial aspect of any such celebration. And not just any music, but music befitting a nation known for its above ground swimming pools, Natty Light, and Freedom Rock CD compilations.

Airspace are a band hailing from the Billy Joel-beknighted town of Allentown, Pennsylvania who make just such music. And let there be no doubt this is intended as a compliment because no one wants or needs to hear Animal Collective at the backyard barbecue cookout even if that otherwise quite worthy band happen to have a song called “Fireworks” (sample lyric: “A sacred night where we'll watch the fireworks / the frightened babies poo”).

Quoting directly from their Bandcamp bio: “Airspace always aims to leave their listeners feeling strong, alive, and inspired” and thank goodness there’s still indie bands out there willing to perform this service and who aren’t embarrassed to admit it. And on their recently-released full-length All The Way Up, Airspace pull off this ambitious goal with style and panache. Plus the barbecue gang will welcome this album being played off the iPod’s portable speakers cuz it kind of like Green Album era Weezer being welcomed back with open arms after the post-Pinkerton years in the desert ready to just have fun again but long before they would reach a point of resorting to recording Toto covers just because the Millennials love the memes (no disrespect intended to either Millennials, Toto, or Rivers Cuomo).

But I digress. Airspace are the focus here and to these ears their music evokes the Everyman working-class rock of one Bruce Springsteen and the Everyman suburban party rock of one Mr. John Bon Jovi in equal measures and don’t worry Everywomen are invited to the party too just ask Courtney Cox and Heather Locklear who are already here having a great time. And yes while this description is a bit New Jersey centric the state is of course a neighbor and close cousin to Pennsylvania.

And speaking of the latter let’s give the Quaker State it’s due too as an ancestral home of feel good, quintessentially American music ranging from Bill Haley and his Comets (authors of the first rock ‘n’ roll crossover pop hit “Rock Around The Clock”) to the many greats of Philly Soul and the whole Gamble & Huff/Sigma Sound Studios catalogue of classic R&B, soul, and disco hits without which this country’s young 70s-era young Americans would have ended up trying to dance to the Carpenters “Superstar” which is a great song but not exactly an obvious floor filler.



But I digress, again. All The Way Up opens in boisterous form with a quick strummed guitar and a solid backbeat before breaking into a hummable lead guitar line that'll get you waving your sparklers in the air to the point that you'll probably not even notice that the lyrics open with a bummer sentiment ("The sun is out, but I don't care / it only hurts my eyes") before going on to describe a lost love and the obsessive longing that follows. But Airspace are one of those bands good are writing songs that sound like heroic, even patriotic, aspirational anthems but whose lyrics feature an assortment of seekers, schemers, and dreamers just looking for some kind of break--a better life, a better place to live, a better love life, etc.--much like a certain previously mentioned Boss Man. The very next song "Monaco" is another good example where the narrator longs for a fantasy getaway on the French Riviera ("In Monaco it's not so cold / limitations never hold") or for another example check out "Making It Out" ("And it's days like this that make me miss / the years of hell in the South / 'cause God at least I had the hope / of one day making it out") or really most of the other songs on the album (but don't worry there's a few more lyrically optimistic songs on the album too cuz you gotta mix it up some).

Because really, when you think about it, what's more American than being all upbeat and brash and very nearly arrogant on the surface (the music) but underneath it all being very nearly crippled by self-doubt, disappointment, and longing (the lyrics). So there. I got you sorted musically for the 4th and proud to be an American to boot but without having to listen to that godawful Lee Greenwood song. Now please drink responsibly and try not to blow any fingers off! (Jason Lee)

 

   

Pretty Sick stay sick on "Come Down"

On their sophomore long-playing record, Come Down, Pretty Sick push the needle even further into the red than before when it comes to being both pretty and being sick and then they take that needle and stab you in the f***ing heart with it (another way of pushing it into the red) but in a way that’s not lethal like you’d expect but just the opposite so that after the music’s over you feel something like Uma Thurman must‘ve felt with a hypodermic needle sticking out of her chest after ODing and feeling gobsmacked by what just happened but also equally grateful for being brought back to life by a rush of adrenaline injected straight to the heart.

So yeah, they stay sick.

Last year’s Deep Divine opened with a short instrumental called “Comedown", a state of being embodied by dirgy bass and grinding guitar and slow pounding drums. But the comedown cleared pretty quickly on that record with something approaching a state of ecstatic release over the next six tracks, though still with plenty of rough edges and the occasional dreamy reverie. But this new one takes those rough edges and reveries and puts them at the center of things.

On Come Down’s centerpiece songs (e.g., the advance singles “Bet My Blood” and “Devil In Me”) Pretty Sick bassist/vocalist/songwriter and master of sickitude Sabrina Fuentes and her musical co-conspirators go into full on shred mode including the shredding of vocal chords and of bougie standards of decency and decorum which of course have always been applied most harshly to women. But other track are shred-averse leaning into ambience and minimalism, or full on "bedroom pop" on the album closer. In a way it's like a movie sequel where they take what people liked about the original and push those qualities to new extremes in every direction ("into the red") to the point of incoherence at times. But the approach works better here than it did in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

The album opens with a song called “Dumb”—a track that predates even Deep Divine and acts as a bridge between that record and this one. It's also a throwback in that it sounds like a long lost outtake or forgotten b-side from Bossanova, but sung by Kim Deal who was mostly absent from that album on vocals, in that it’s a hook-laden mid-tempo rocker but with a very non-Pixieish music video to match that should maybe come with a disclaimer warning “prudes beware but sickos welcome.”

Next up is “Bet My Blood” which gives the listener a feel for where things are headed with its grunged out, Big Muffy guitars and raw riot grrrly vocals, all in service of a catchy and well-constructed song that is until it implodes, crashing in on itself with a quickening pulse and babbling spirit-possessed glossolalia and growingly unhinged musical backing to match before ending with the sound of a feral creature's panting. And if that’s not enough to get your goat there’s a music video featuring some quite possibly un-board-certified nurses including Ms. Fuentes wielding a hypodermic needle (see paragraph one) with a glint in her eye and administering fatal care to a few pretty young patients.

On track three (“She”) the album takes another turn with a stealthy, stalking rhythm section and shuddering guitar melodies over which Sabrina takes on yet another new vocal persona that's by turns breathy and bleating and then finally primal screaming and pushing the audio into the red again, before settling back down into a reverb-laden refrain of “Shee-eeee la-la-la-la-la-la-la” as if words alone no longer do justice to how she feels about the titular femme fatale. And by this point I'm starting to think Miss Pretty Sick may be angling for a career in voice acting à la Mercedes McCambridge after it's all said and done.



And here we reach the exact midpoint of the record, a song called “Self Control” as in "(I Ain’t Got No)", where the overarching theme gets laid bare as it's been hinted at elsewhere in lyrics lamenting/celebrating said lack of control—“punish myself for years after / but I can’t help myself"—a theme that works its way into the music itself, repeatedly teetering on the edge of order and chaos with the latter engulfing the former more than once on the album. 

The next couple songs begin the descent down the other side of the mountain—i.e., the comedown of Come Down if you will or even if you won't—with “Pillbug” floating by on slow waves of woozy harmonics for a full four minutes before ending with a vow to “curl right up and roll over for you." And then comes “Bare” which fittingly is a stark, tender love song with Sabrina singing in unison with her bass and in harmony with herself and it's not unlike some of the more minimalist post-Last Splash stuff the Breeders have recorded (sorry for double-dipping on Kim Deal but I can't help myself either). And then on to the penultimate track “Devil in Me” where there's a return to stable destabilized alt-rock territory. But this time it feels any control issues may have abated somewhat, or a state of acceptance achieved at least. Because “the Devil in me likes the Devil in you” sounds like a healthy way to cope and a good line for couples therapy. And even when the song spins off its axis it feels like more of a climax than a comedown.

And at last we get “Physical" a song that strays into panda-eyed dream pop territory with synthy strings and intense ominous whooshing custom made to appear in Twin Peaks Season 4 (one hopes) and yes I’ll accept that music consultancy position, Mr. Lynch. Except that the Julee Cruise/Chromatics vibes are mixed with some NYC grit (and some London grit since it's Pretty Sick's current base of operation) and probably only a born-and-bred city kid could be so seen-it-all jaded to write lines like “now that the party's done / [...] now that thе glamour's past / and everyone's come down / I know I won’t be remembered well” before turning 20. But it's also like a city kid to declare “I know I will never let myself down" which somehow I doubt many Pretty Sick fans will feel let down either by a record that, comedown or not, is such a shot in the arm. (Jason Lee)