Just across the Hudson, tucked between the Lincoln and Holland tunnels, is Hoboken, NJ. A less frenetic, friendlier version of New York City, Hoboken still functions as sort of a microcosm of Manhattan with its restaurants, galleries, and vibrant music scene. Just like Hoboken, ARTWORK reflects the sometimes opposing forces and surprising beauty of the big city. On Skies gnarled guitars and stomping drums give way to a coasting melody with blissed out vocals and twee lyrics reminiscent of Owl City. But just as soon as you begin to get lulled into submission, in comes a menacing, spoken word bridge to upset the calm. On Casting Stones staccato guitars, blasts of distortion, thrashing drums, and whirls of synths create a decidedly more turbulent vibe. I’ll set the world in flames, singer Darren Fisher promises. True, but they’ll also provide the salve to soothe the burn.
There’s something about the music of Really Old Airplanes that reminds one of old nautical towns with their creaking buildings, eccentric townsfolk and a salt-cured way of life. Or maybe that’s just us. But there’s no arguing the fact that the Tacoma band’s music is steeped in a sort of roughshod romance. Armed with an unusual assortment of instruments”ukulele, keyboards, bass, drums, cello and bells”Really Old Airplanes lead you into a world of slightly disheveled, bright-eyed melodies. Perennials wheezes and twinkles with bells and accordion. Singer Kory Mathis delivers a swaying, sing-a-long chorus that could bring a tear to any drunkard’s eye: Shoulder to shoulder, it’s over and we’ve met our end. Pleasantries holds you in thrall with fluid, fluttering strings, horns and croaking keys. Likewise Crown, with its big, swirling constellation of keyboards and harpsichord, casts its own sort of folk magic. Fans of Neutral Milk Hotel, Beirut or Decemberists”you’re gonna wanna get all up on this.
In the continuum of all-female bands, Sick of Sarah falls somewhere between Sleater-Kinney and The Go-Gos. Their music isn’t the raw, shuddering post-punk of the former, nor is it the lip-glossed pop of the latter. It’s little bit of both. With their lo-fi edge and mainstream melodics, the Minneapolis band’s music is as prickly as it is catchy. Bittersweet is a shuffling, plaintive pop catharsis. It’s rough around the edges, but that’s part of the charm. With its jagged guitars, rioting drums, and breakneck pace, Not Listening,” is a rebellious, in-your-face tongue lashing. But our favorite fit comes by way of Breakdown, a strident, percussive folk tempest that sounds like the product of an Ani DiFranco and Tommy Tutone collaboration. Once all the unbridled aggression has run its course, vulnerability sneaks in with acoustic ballads like Paint Like That and Common Mistake. Enjoy the calm while you can. With Sick of Sarah, another ass kicking is always around the corner.
When it comes to vocal capabilities, to a certain extent you’re either born with them or you’re not. Charlie Bernardo was blessed with an incredible voice”one that sounds like the product of English DNA. As lead singer of DC-based band The Sketches, Bernardo brings huge Brit-pop chops to the table. Strangers”not to get overly hyperbolic”is perfection. Bernardo’s intoxicating croon, a Lennon-like piano line and frayed guitar lashes combine for a lush, swooning melody. Somewhere the members of Keane are gnashing their teeth in envy. She Came & Went, with its cello moans and shaken percussion is superlative Brit folk. Secret Alphabets packs the theatrical punch of Queen on its airborne chorus, but begins with a rolling bass that leans more towards Beatles’ Come Together. The Sketches may wear their influences on their sleeve, but don’t worry too much about it. The visceral chills their music brings are entirely of their own design.