Line Spectra may have burst onto the Canadian pop scene from the west side of Montreal, but just listen to City Stars and you’ll see that the entire metropolis is their muse. Languid and dreamy, the track has a sparkle and drawl similar to a Rilo Kiley tune. I’ll never leave the city I call home, sings Vanessa Morelli. And then she repeats it in French, like a true Quebecer. Summer, Oh Wait! is more upbeat fare, a percussive jumble of guitars, keys, drums and handclaps. It’s the kind of catchy, wistful, and kinetic song that’s meant for driving with the windows down and the volume up. Line Spectra’s jangly indie pop continues with Choosing Sides, a coursing melody where guitars growl, keys hammer out an insistent line and drums keep it all moving forward. These three femmes are doing their city proud. Bravo, mademoiselles.
Jules Larson used to be front-woman for the LA band Overnight Lows before striking it out on her own a few years ago. And so far, singledom’s been good to Larson. Her songs have made their way onto Kellogg’s commercials, shows like Army Wives, One Tree Hill and Grey’s Anatomy. There’s something about her soulful pop that works just as well on the army base as it does in the emergency room. My Little Drum is an easy and lithe melody reminiscent of the music of Brett Dennan or Jack Johnson. But don’t let the sunshine fool you, Larson is a bit of a hellcat. In the slinky, soulful Raise A Little Hell, she purrs, You’ve gotta raise a little hell to get to heaven. And on I Want It All she does just that, conjuring up a ˜60s rock-soul revival with reverb drenched guitars, tambourines and bleating sax. Raising hell never sounded so heavenly.
Take Carol Channing, Joanna Newsom and some old wire recordings from the 1940s and you’ll be able to somewhat approximate the antique indie pop of Bella Ruse. Led by the whimsical warble of singer Kay Gillette, the Minneapolis band makes strange bedfellows out of their instrumentation, mixing glockenspiel with piano, guitar, kazoo and typewriter. The music that emerges is jaunty, teasing and a little magical. Gumption & Guts bounces along with kazoo chasing piano, as Gillette declares, This hell I’m living is no worse than knowing / That I just never had the gumption or the guts to try. Romantic satisfaction continues to evade the songstress on Complicated Rhythm, a quirky hodgepodge of tambourine, guitar, piano, trumpet and (again) typewriter that punctuates each lovelorn sentiment with a cheerful ding. There’s a lot to love about Bella Ruse, if you’ve got the gumption and the guts to try them out.
Marie Hines is a purveyor of rosy piano melodies, a feminine counterpoint to songwriter Adam Young of Owl City. Both write songs steeped in hope and whimsy, viewing the world around them with a mix of wide-eyed wonder and sensitivity. Hines, however, steers her songs into chamber pop territory, mixing piano with violin, cello, guitar and drums. Worth The Fight is an orchestra of optimism, where Hines promises the listener that there are Bigger pictures to paint / More horizons to chase. In Wrapped Up In Love she switches gears for a sweet shuffle somewhere between Sara Bareilles and Natasha Bedingfield. Like Young, Hines also has a song called Fireflies. Hers blends the high twinkle of piano with the low croon of cello for a swooning, moonlit melody. Hines has plenty of horizons left to chase, and they’re sure to be just as lovely. Stick around for the joy ride.
When big Britpop bands like Coldplay or Elbow play”even in huge arenas”you can often hear a pin drop. That’s how rapt their audiences are. Somehow the combination of tenderness and melody casts a spell that no one dares to break. Jets Under Fire knows how to enthrall the Britpop way. Their dynamic, emotive music is nothing if not moving. Start with The End of the Western World, where bright blasts of guitar, rattling tambourines and the falsetto croon of singer Jason Poe put your heart on tenterhooks. On the upbeat Voices guitars race for the summit while Poe questions his grip on reality. But it’s Your Own Hands that will really break your heart. The band creates a spacious, dark and still dreamscape where the singer can conjure up a lost summer romance in sharp relief. It’s like Grease for grownups.
“Your Own Hands” – Jets Under Fire
Percussive, soaring, and melodic, the music of Britt Daley is an elixir that’s almost instantly intoxicating. The Florida artist crafts enchanting synth-pop gems that are full of longing and wonder. Never Done This begins with the seductive thump of bass and new-wave synths. It’s a ballad with a beat and a singer who pierces the upper register with clear, bell-like vocals that are a mix of Tori Amos and Kate Bush. Lilly is impossibly romantic, an airborne catharsis of vocals and piano. But our favorite track may have to be the swooning, rhythmic Closer To You. With a chorus that’s more like an incantation, Daley summons you into her dreamy headspace. Bring me closer to you, she pleads. Trust us, after hearing her music, you’ll be echoing the sentiment.
In the oversaturated marketplace that is the music industry, true originals can sometimes get lost in the crowd. Be glad Dolly Johnston isn’t slipping past your attention. Johnston’s songs are treasure troves of uncommon instruments and complicated arrangements. As a composer, her intellect is undeniable, but her real talent is her ability to make fun, frisky music out of the strangest of bedfellows. Like Wind At My Back, where a theremin, a baritone guitar, a computer and some woodwinds join together in a percussive romp that’s part surf music, part tango, part Goldfrapp. Bang Bang, with its tambourine shambles, electronic bleeps and ropy guitars, is garage rock go-go for the 21st century. On the subversive Ghetto Blaster, Johnston lends her velvety, feline alto (similar to fellow Canadian Emily Haines) to an ode to the redemptive powers of the boom box. Take a pill, it’s only a song, she teases. Yeah, but what a song it is.
Swedish trio The Radio Dept. recently played the States with a double-lineup in NYC. The pop princes return in 2011 with a compilation project (twenty-eight tracks comprising fourteen A-Sides and fourteen B-sides) as well as a full US tour. But forget the facts, these Swedes are all about presenting a perspective.
Stockholm-based threesome The Radio Dept. were flown overseas last week to play two sold out shows in New York City, at The Knitting Factory on Tuesday and Bowery Ballroom on Wednesday. Poised to release their comprehensive compilation of singles Passive Aggressive: 2002-2010 in January, as well as embark on a proper US tour beginning in February, The Radio Dept. seems to be sitting pretty. The band released its latest full length album, Clinging to a Scheme, in April, and is receiving critical praise the globe-over. The first single off the album, Heaven’s on Fire, was the No. 1 most popular tune on the Hype Machine, making them the fifth most blogged about band in the world earlier this fall”this on top of past accomplishments, which include three albums, eleven EPs, five singles and features in both a Gucci ad as well as on the soundtrack for Sofia Coppola‘s Marie Antoinette.
All of that said, the guys aren’t terribly keen on being in the spotlight. While they are humbled by the widespread recognition, they say having all eyes on them is unnerving. Explains lead singer and guitarist, Johan Duncanson, If you want to see extremely scared people on stage who really don’t want to be there, that’s a Radio Department show. RD’s main man harks back to an earlier experience, but the sentiment still stands; To me it’s about challenging myself because I’m really shy. It’s a weird thing for me to walk up on stage and play guitar and sing to a lot of people. It’s not natural. It’s weird. But I push myself to do it anyway. And sometimes I [still] get sacred.
Indeed, the threesome exuded a certain degree of distant nervousness in Brooklyn Tuesday night, but perhaps that was in part due to the entire system shutting down mid-show. Mics started squealing shrilly and the boys backed off, making way for the tech guys to glue the evening back together. In the end, the show went on, though not nearly long enough, given the impression I gathered from fans”and the early hour at which things seemed to wind down. This band’s been around since the mid-90s and the current lineup, which, in addition to Duncanson, includes Martin Larsson on second guitar and Daniel Tjí¤der on keyboards, is much revered. When they pass through, RD devotees crave a solid set. I’m afraid we didn’t get as much as we wanted. Be that as it may, many an audience member jammed out to the group’s dreamy pop songs, heads bobbing and feet shuffling the entire time.
On the topic of jamming, and almost assuredly in direct relation to their trepidation about being on stage , they made a point of confessing that they’re anything but a jam band. Well, that and a rock band. We used to call ourselves ˜anti-rock,’ they tell me. We don’t jam. We’re not that kind of band, really, Duncanson says. We hate jamming. Johan really hates jamming, laughs Larsson. Duncanson affirms, I hate jamming. I ask them why that is and Duncanson doesn’t hesitate to illustrate: When I was in my teens and going to parties, a couple people would take out acoustic guitars and start jamming. It kind of made me sick. So I promised myself never to do things like that. It’s just such a hippie thing to do. Posers.
You would think Duncanson was an arrogant guy, given his statements, but the man behind Dept.’s vocals is absolutely sweet, articulating things in a sincere manner with zero affectation. In fact, none of them put on airs. We’re not good musicians, really. We’re not that good of musicians. Like, technically. We’re not capable of doing any thing any day, just having concert. We need to train, Larsson shares, the quintessential antithesis of a “hippie poser.” Tjí¤der chimes in about something he terms the rock and roll myth, purporting, You don’t have to be this self destructive, suffering artist. While he isn’t necessarily intending to equate that to “hippie posers who jam a lot,” it rounds out the ever-evolving portrait of The Radio Dept., combating their tendency toward the elusive. There [seemed to be] rules about bearded men playing sweaty, hairy music [that made it] more real than clean-shaven, young guys playing pop music. I’ve always thought there’s something really wrong there, Duncanson states in defense of their sound and on behalf of all anti-rock outfits.
In the end though, which is nowhere in sight for these Swedes, it all comes down to one vital detail: the music itself. The Radio Dept. can be invited to do a double-header halfway around the world without asking and sell out twin shows without trying. They can come across like deer in headlights whilst performing (not perpetually, but occasionally) and make a subtle but successful comeback post-equipment malfunction. They can despise the stage, hate to jam and rail against rock-and-roll. Deduction: they’re pretty unbelievable in my book. Three early-thirties savants, who possess more lyrical acuity and instrumental prowess in their pinky fingers than half the GRAMMY nominees, are real, raw, genuine artists. Forget expectations of the industry. These guys are around to defy them. But not in some attention-seeking, deliberately rebellious way. In the real way. Duncanson says it best, summing up; We’ve never been into ˜making it’ or anything like that. We just wanna make music. Play on, sweet Swedes, play on.
By Nell Alk
Nell Alk is a culture and entertainment reporter based in New York. Her work has appeared in Paper Magazine, InterviewMagazine.com, Zink Magazine and BlackBookMag.com, among others. She also contributes to NBC’s Niteside blog