“Agora”is another track with an insanely catchy chorus, so much so that it almost erases the impact of “Giants” as it keeps replaying in your head. The first time I heard this track I probably went back and repeated it 3 or 4 times before continuing with the album. And that is very out of character for me. The song doesn’t waste time getting to its killer chorus, I think the first starts about 12 seconds into the song. It’s a very simple song, and it’s all about the chorus. The way the vocals fill in the gaps between the beats and the way “Agora” is sung with heavy synthesized vocals works perfectly with the rest of the music. It’s a tough track to describe, you just have to listen to it.
Giants was the first single of off Distraction and it immediately caught my attention the first time I heard it on the radio. What really stands out on this track is the chorus, and the combination of the unusual vocal delivery and the great guitar line that is played along with it. It does what an effective pop song is supposed to do, and that’s get stuck on a loop that endlessly repeats in your brain. The track starts off slow with some gentle synth sounds and a light drum machine track, before the vocals kick in and the music takes off. The key line in the chorus of “I am loving you more” and Lau’s delivery really stick in your head, it’s done very well. And the song is just short enough that you want to hit “repeat” as soon as it ends.
Bear Hands may not be my first choice for a band name, but I guess it helps this Brooklyn quartet stand out a bit from other bands. The band first formed in 2007 when Dylan Rau was going through a crazy time with his love life and was inspired to write a ton of new songs. So he formed the band as an outlet to bring his songwriting to fruition. So he called on Ted Feldman, Val Loper and T.J. Orscher to play with him and they released an E.P. in ’07 titled “Golden”. This got them immediate attention and they began doing a lot of touring, opening for bands like Passion Pit, MGMT and Vampire Weekend. They released their first full-length album in 2010 – “Burning Bush Supper Club”, then another EP in 2012 and finally their second album this year which is titled “Distraction”. The band has an indie/alternative pop sound, mixing electronics and guitar into the mix. Rau’s vocals are fairly distinctive, often emotive and help set the band apart. Their music is very radio friendly and you may have heard “Giants” on the radio, which is one of the two songs I’m featuring.
What leads off the album and is a good example of the band’s sound. Nothing too in your face, but there’s plenty of interesting elements going on. Effective guitar work, but nothing flashy. Some interesting vocal tics, mostly coming out in the chorus. It’s a short track at just over 2 minutes so it’s over before you even have a chance to get tired of it. One thing I like about the band is that their music could have easily come out anytime over the past 25-30 years.
live version, couldn’t find audio from the album to share
Class Historian is the catchiest song on the album, actually one of the catchiest songs released this year. Yes, it has a silly stutter sound as the main hook in the chorus, but it’s nicely done. There’s also a great guitar riff that accents the stutter and drives the song forward. Lindsay’s mumbled and echoed vocals during the verses also provide a nice contrast to the chorus, which is bouncy and ebullient.
This band may be the first band I’ve featured that hails from Oklahoma; Norman to be more specific. The now trio (previously a quartet) is comprised of guitarist vocalist Ryan Lindsay, guitarist Ben King and drummer Nathan Price. They released their second album “Just Enough Hip To Be Woman” a few months ago. The band has elements of punk and some ‘80s college rock elements mixed in. I still haven’t heard their first album, but I’ve found the new album to be a grower and I enjoy it more each time I listen to it. Evidently the band is a little more subdued on the new album than they were on their debut, and that has been a turn off for some. I think maybe expectations need to be tempered a bit. They have a nice mix of retro integrated in their sound, but it’s done in a refreshing way. If you’re familiar with college rock from the ‘80s, you can hear a lot of influences show up throughout the album. And the album moves briskly, they pack 11 songs in just 32 minutes.
Black Out Days precedes Fall In Love on the album, and while overshadowed by the monster track it follows, it’s still a solid song. Barthel is on vocals again (I prefer her voice over Carter’s), and her vocals are more subtle on this track. Again, this song displays the key sound elements from Phantogram – electro rock, stutter beats and some psychedelic and shoegaze elements. The vocals on the chorus actually mimic the stutter beat somewhat, which is a little different. I prefer the vocal approach in “Fall In Love” though, with the singing going on around the beats vs. right on the beats. Halfway through the song there’s a cool breakdown where the synth sound gets really heavy and deep, or is maybe just more isolated so it stands out more. This track is very atmospheric and it helps provide a nice lead-in for “Fall In Love”.
Fall in Love has the immediate sound of a classic. There are so many things I like about this track. First off, this song sounds great with a solid pair of headphones, there’s subtlety in the electronic sounds, levels of depth and bass and presence that really help boost the enjoyment when listening to this song. It starts off with what almost sounds like an older sampled beat for the first 10 seconds, before the main beat comes crashing into the mix creating a very effective jarring moment. The synthesizer has such a heavy presence, you can physically feel the weight as it pulses throughout this song. The stuttering beats and sounds on this track couldn’t be more effectively leveraged. They do a great job of mixing things up throughout the track, while still maintaining coherence. Barthel’s vocals sound better on this track than anywhere else on the album as well. I think she does a phenomenal job of singing just right during this song to maintain the right mood and emotion. Even the softer moments of the track, while also providing a contrast to the more bombastic moments, are still filled with subtle sounds and accents if you listen closely. I wouldn’t be surprised if this song was still one of my favorite tracks after the decade ends. I can’t see many things surpassing it over the next few years. Every time this comes on the radio, I immediately have to crank it up.
Off of the same album as the hit song “Take Me to Church” this ballad is soulful, emotional, and addicting. It is a story from finding love in a time of hardness to death and coming back to love again. It is not a traditional love song but combines interesting music with meaningful lyrics to create a beautiful song you won’t be able to get out of your head. It’s the type of song that gives you the chills every time you listen to it but somehow it never gets old. The video has stunning choreography and flows perfectly with the song enhancing it not distracting from it.
Phantogram is a NY duo whose music could be described as electro rock with a touch of psychedelic and shoegaze that also incorporates some very effective use of stutter beats. In fact, this band’s music is really differentiated by their use of stutter beats. Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel formed Phantogram 7 years ago. They both perform vocal duties and Josh plays guitar while Sarah is on the keyboards. After several EPs, the band released their first album in 2010 – “Eyelid Movies”. After several collaborations and another EP, they put out their second LP “Voices” earlier this year. While I’m not the biggest fan of the entire album, it definitely has its highlights and there’s plenty to like about this band. I guess that’s why I haven’t bothered to write about them until now. However, their single “Fall In Love” is definitely one of my favorite tracks released this past year, so I wanted to share it and this band with everyone.