It’s been a long road for Smallpools leading up to the release of their first full-length album. Their first single, “Dreaming,” from their self-titled EP in 2013 was a smash hit, charting as high as #23 on the Alternative Songs list, and appearing in video games like FIFA 2014. The song led to the quartet touring with and opening for some big name acts, such as Grouplove, MS MR, Walk the Moon, and Neon Trees. On each one of their tours, they would play their four-song EP, and then a taste of what would eventually turn into LOVETAP! promising that a new album was on the way.
With many of the songs on the album having been out for over a year, the true shining moments come in the form of new material from the band. Songs like “American Love,” the first track off the album, “Lovetap!” the moniker of the LP, and “What’s That A Picture Of?” serve as fun and dancy alt-pop hits. The group stays true to their own original Californian sound, while also exploring sounds and riffs that come from other alternative and pop inspirations. The song, “9 to 5,” for instance, sounds very much like a track that could come from the likes of Vampire Weekend.
For those of you familiar with my show, you know that I love Typhoon. The band, which consists of eleven members, is led by Kyle Morton, who provides lead vocals and guitar with support from two violins, two trumpets, two drums, another guitar, a bass guitar, horns, and separate percussionist-ukulele player, all of whom sing backup. Their elaborate sound is so brilliantly layered and finely tuned that it isn’t just a wall of notes, but rather a beautifully crafted melody more complex than our ears have generally grown accustomed to.
Labelmates, friends, and award-winning Australian electronic music pioneers Flume and Chet Faker have collaborated once more to create the three-song Lockjaw EP. Those familiar with either artist may know Chet Faker for his minimalist yet soulful rendition of Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” and his work on a track off of Flume’s debut album. Flume is known for his knack for creating downtempo-cum-dance-cum hip-hop instrumentals, and in fact, he recently released a mixtape featuring many up and coming rappers laying vocals over his tracks. To some, it may come as no surprise that these two artists have decided to work together again, combining their unique but complementary sounds to create the perfect collaboration. Many times when two artists work together, it’s easy for the listener to distinguish which components came from what artist. With this EP, it seems that the work was split equally, blending together so organically, that all three songs would all work well if they were individual releases by either musician.
When you think of Sleigh Bells, what are some words that come to mind? Loud? Aggressive? Raw? For a band that has managed to find their niche in the world of shred-pop, listeners may be wondering how they could even top their first two full length efforts with another album. The Brooklyn duo’s third album Bitter Rivals, balances the line between the recklessness and rawness and of their first album, Treats, and the careful, almost restrained production of their second, Reign Of Terror, with masterful ease. Bitter Rivals is poppierand more exuberant, while still maintaining the menace expected from the band’s music. Here, vocalist Alexis Krauss shows us the full range of her vocal spectrum, from almost cloyingly sweet to intimidatingly harsh. Because of this, the album appeals to both old fans and new listeners who may have found their sound too grating. With a whole lot of pop and even more punch, Sleigh Bells calls us back to attention, reminding the world why we were so drawn to them in the first place.
The album opens with the duo’s leading single and title track, “Bitter Rivals.” It starts off with crunchy acoustic guitar riffs but very quickly spirals into an anthemic head-banging tune, with Krauss shout-singing over bandmate Derek Miller’s shredding guitar and booming drums. Other tracks, such as “Minnie” and “Sing Like A Wire” are reminiscent of their first album, with sounds that could fill a stadium and the surrounding area. Some songs on the album, such as “You Don’t Get Me Twice” and the R&B-tinged “Love Sick” and “Young Legends” tone back the shred-guitar and opt for a simpler (about as simple as Sleigh Bells can get, really) instrumentation, focusing on extremely catchy melodies and even sweeter vocals. Included on the album is also a version of their 2009 track “To Hell With You,” originally known as “2HELLWU,” which one may even venture to call a ballad of sorts. Ballad? Sleigh Bells? What?? It works, in a way that only they can pull off.