Though the members of The City Never Sleeps hail from all corners of New York state”Albany, Middletown, and Oneonta”none live in the city to which their name refers. The irony ends there, however. Musically, TCNS is all about earnestness delivered via tight, stylized songs with snap. On Mr. Hide a percussive bass, jutting guitars, and glossy boy-girl harmonies create a taut little rocker buffed to a shine, with a gnarly guitar solo to boot. Return to Sender features an exhaustive revue of guitars that stretch, scribble, grunt, and thrust all over the pop rock melody. But on Crumble At The Fault, the band switches things up, sewing a bit of jazz into the blissed-out ballad. Glistening guitars nip and synths sigh as singer John Glenn admits, Sometimes I feel just fine. We know the feeling, dude.
AM to AM is led by Will Tendy, a guitarist/songwriter/producer/engineer who’s manned the sound board for indie luminaries like Melissa Auf der Maur and Morningwood. But his skills at the console are just one of the many reasons AM to AM sounds so good. Tendy”along with bandmates Sarah Goldstone, Jonathan Schmidt, Peter Recine, and Derek McWilliams”builds dynamic, swaggering rockers layer by layer. Spot of Light, with its rhythmic lashings and high falsetto soul, makes for a jagged dance party. There’s a lot going on here”stomping drums, bluesy guitars, choppy keys, and big digital swaths of fuzz. But Tendy’s production chops bring all the elements working together for the common good. Sew and Outline set forth gunfire guitars, pummeling drums, and polyrhythms for intense, stylized melees. But if you want a kinder kind of lashing, skip to Pop As Science and see how one of their bubblier melodies can still hurt so good.
It takes a mighty presence to hold an arena-sized audience captive. And though Kat Robichaud, who fronts Raleigh-based band The Design, has spent the bulk of her career on smaller stages, she’s the kind of heavyweight performer who could shake the rafters of a stadium. Armed with a muscular contralto, the singer powers through theatrical rockers that harken back to the ˜80s. Young America is the soundtrack to defiance, a stomping gutter groove for those with their jaws firmly jutted out. But even protestors like to take things to the dance floor now and then, and Sing, Girl, Sing provides the chunky rock guitars, a funk bass line, and angular percussion to get things moving. Still, The Design is a band that thrives on dissent, and nowhere is their unrest more palatable than on Burn” a rallying cry sounded by syncopated drums and a salvo of gnarly guitars. I will not be found wanting, Robichaud warns. No, ma’am. Absolutely not.
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.
If you can judge a band by the number of big names it’s affiliated with, then Man On Earth is doing OK. A feature in TIME magazine, gigs with Perry Farrell and The White Tie Affair, a guest appearance on their record by Stephen Pearcy from RATT”things could be worse. Here’s what everyone’s fussing over: stylish, dancey rockers like Staring At Your Phone, where the deep grumble of bass and serpentine guitars get the adrenaline flowing. Man On Earth has a lot of muscle, but there’s heart, too. The dreamy, gossamer Venus begins with a speech by John F. Kennedy during the Space Race. If that doesn’t get you in a sentimental frame of mind, then maybe All We Want will. A salvo of guitars, racing drums and piercing synths build an anthemic rallying cry”part U2 and part Cure. Maybe Man on Earth isn’t at the level of those bands yet. Give them time; they’re on a roll.
“Staring At Your Phone” – Man On Earth
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.