2010-2011 Indie Rock Music Reviews by Richard Morales

26 Nov, 2012

Letter from the Music Editor

I’d like to welcome everyone to Dig In Magazine’s new music page. In keeping with the purpose and overall aesthetics of what the magazine entails, I would like to not only present some of the best indie rock albums that are available, and also create a format in which up and coming bands can gain exposure and expand their fan base.

We are beginning this section of the magazine with some music reviews. I am anticipating several major indie rock releases for 2011—and will try to review all that are worthy of note—but I’d first like to mention albums worthy of note that were released in 2010. Of course there have been plenty of great indie albums last year that made many top ten lists such as Arcade Fire, Deerhunter, Vampire Weekend, and the Black Keys, but I’d like to suggest a few that people may have missed. I am not suggesting that this is a best of list, rather just some recommendations of some great music by some amazing artists.

Cheers,

Richard Morales

For music inquires, email Richard at: richard.a.morales@gmail.com

Bell Gardens

Bell Gardens – Hangups Need Company EP (Failed Better)

I happened to stumble upon Bell Gardens at a record release party for the Radar Bros last year, and they turned out to be one of the best opening acts I’ve seen in a long time. Blending old-fashioned harmonies with cerebral instrumentation and familiar melodies, they immediately made me realize what would happen if Super Furry Animals hooked up with Japancakes. I’m sure this Los Angeles-based band will be getting plenty of comparisons to many of the current cohort of experimental/instrumental indie groups, and for good reason, they seem to encapsulate the greatest aspects of that moody style and feel. Although Hangups Need Company is an EP, it is a merely a glimpse of bigger things to come. Founders Kenneth James Gibson and Brian McBride would be wise to keep this project going if for nothing more than to just make some great albums…and from the sound of this EP, it may very well happen.

Key Tracks:

End of the World

Can We Get

Labour at the Landmark

Broken Bells

Broken Bells – Broken Bells (Columbia)

I must say I do have an inherent soft spot for debut albums. In most cases, debut albums tend to be ambitious, uneven, and raw; all while the apparent musical influences leave room for much artistic growth. In the case of the Broken Bells, James Mercer and Danger Mouse are not new to the art of making great records, but they have never collaborated quite like this. Danger Mouse’s production to songs that could have easily appeared on any Shins album change not only the dynamic, but allow Mercer to stretch technically and vocally, whether it is the timing of “Sailing to Nowhere” or the falsetto on “The Ghost Inside.” The great thing about this album is that both artists have most likely gained a new fan base whilst still staying true to their musical ideals. The real joy is left to the listener who is allowed to journey through a spectrum of influences and styles, by artists who can somehow compliment and conflict each other so appropriately.

Key Tracks:

The High Road

The Ghost Inside

Mongrel Heart

Dr Dog: Shame, Shame

Dr. Dog – Shame, Shame (Anti)

Coming off their previous great effort Fate, Dr. Dog’s Shame, Shame is definitely a step forward in this Philadelphia band’s evolution. The wonderful thing about this album is that it embraces much of what indie rock is about: versatility and experimentation. Each song is infused with its own unique appeal, thus the album does not become contrived with repetition and cliché. Going from the upbeat pop feel of “Later,” to the country-tinged “Station,” and then to the dreamy “Someday,” gives the listener an opportunity to explore the band’s range. Although their influences have remained constant, from indie rock pioneers like Pavement and the Flaming Lips to light 70s rock, the real noticeable change is in allowing Rob Schnapf to produce, which has allowed the sound to grow and become even more accessible to new fans. This album is definitely worth checking out.

Key Tracks:

Stranger

Later

Shame, Shame

Radar Brothers: The Illustrated Garden

Radar Bros. – The Illustrated Garden (Merge)

I’ve been such a big fan of the Radar Bros. since 2002′s And the Surrounding Mountains, that it would be wrong if I didn’t include them in this list. Jim Putman’s ability to create the simplest melodies from the most basic major chord progressions leads one to ask, “Why hasn’t someone come up with this before?” He continues to astound me with his songwriting ability; and although many critics write him off as being too formulaic, he actually expands the Radar Bros. sound by altering the rhythm section. The addition of bass player Be Hussey and drummer Stevie Treichel make for harder sound than their earlier albums, but it is a welcoming change since it compliments Putman’s overall approach so well.

Key Tracks:

For the Birds

Quarry

Chickens

Shout Out Louds: Work

Shout Out Louds – Work (Merge)

Although I’ve never been a die-hard fan of 80′s new wave, disciples of the music have interpreted the genre into something magical by incorporating more recent indie rock elements. The Shout Out Louds’ latest album, Work, feels much more like a follow-up to their debut album Howl Howl Gaff Gaff, then an extension of their previous album. Singer Adam Olenius’ lyrical content hasn’t changed too dramatically (for better or worse), but the sound of this album is joyful while at times still having an underlying darkness, reminiscent of the Cure. Others have mentioned the simplicity within their song structure, but in all honesty, that is exactly what it takes to make great records; songs that are built from humble origins. Having Phil Ek produce the album doesn’t hurt either.

Key Tracks:

1999

Walls

Throwing Stones

Walking In Sunlight

Walking in Sunlight – Walking in Sunlight (Ghost Mansion)

San Francisco’s Walking in Sunlight has an old-time style that probably won’t ever appeal to a mass audience, which is perfectly fine because the intimate nature of these tracks are better appreciated in smaller shows and late-night settings. Nathan and Eva Lee Wanta, and Greg Gheorghiu prove that there is much you can do with a guitar, banjo, and whispered vocals (Iron and Wine fans would easily have a new group to follow after listening to this album.) The group is relatively new, so their live show have been concentrated around the San Francisco area, but by playing festivals such as Turkey Trot and SF Bluegrass and Old-time Festival, I’m sure they will soon be stretching out into new territory. Not to say that the group is doing it for overexposure or financial gain, the great thing about a band like Walking in Sunlight is that they still write, record, and perform music for all the right reasons.

Key Tracks:

All I’ll Ever Do

Dry Bones

Long Journey

Read 2012 Music Reviews

About the author

Cindy Maram

Cindy Maram is Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Dig In Magazine. She is an accredited film journalist for Sundance Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival, Mill Valley Film Festival, San Francisco International Film Festival and CAAMFest, as well as writer, vlogger, designer, digital, online & social media marketer. She possesses a B.A from UC Davis and a M.A. in Mass Communications + Popular Culture Studies emphasis in Film/Marketing/Writing from Cal State Fullerton.

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