Reviews

The Melodic Tree’s Top 3 Albums of the Year

3. Ben Varian – Quiet Fill

Ben Varian seems to have perfected the craft of pop music. with somewhat absurd lyrics and upbeat melodies and instrumentations makes it the ultimate pop album. Bringing the mundane into lyrics and making it actually enjoyable is a very difficult feat but somehow he made it. The name of the album is also aptly titled as it filled the time Ben was not doing something else, like going on tour with Dent May or recording a 24-hour live album.

2. Florist – If Blue Could Be Happiness

Florist is one of those bands that will tug at every one of the heart strings in your body whether you want it or not. The simplicity of this album is what intitally draws the listener in and the fragility in the lyrics keeps them in. In order to make sense with a parent’s death, Emily Sprague finds logic and comfort in everyday affairs while somehow still showing empathy through the lyrics about coping with loss.

1. Coma Cinema – Loss Memory

One of my favorite projects of the last few years recently put out its final release under the name. Filled with songs digging deep into his childhood and the pain that came with it. “At home there’s blood on my bed/and no running water/there is a room i don’t go in/i see myself through the door/me and my mom used to hide there/crying our prayers through a window.”

Favorite Bandcamp Releases of 2017

Ada Babar – (2018 Leaked)

Even though it isn’t technically out until next February, 2018, Ada Babar blessed us with putting it up on their Bandcamp this year. Their music is filled with seemingly inconceivable midi controls and even airhorns (as heard on “fav chair”). Ada put out a rather spontaneous album in a seemingly repetitive genre.

Body Meat & The Washboard Abs – Redux 

This split was the second of three releases from Body Meat and one of two from The Washboard Abs. Body Meat’s side of the split are a few of the best songs is filled with experimental songs that feels amorphic and as if everything in pop makes sense all at once. The Washboard Ab’s side features full band songs from previous songs and unreleased songs that seem to make the Washboard Abs as full sounding as they have ever been.

Pleasure Systems – Antumbra Pull

Although I’ve listened to this album for critique several (several) times before the release and know Clarke Sondermann well, hearing the progress and emotions that went into the release in anticipation is why it made this list. Dedicated to their partner and is filled love and thank you notes to him, makes it one of the most sincere albums to be put out this year.

Ben Varian – The L.A. Concession

One of my favorite artists is also seemingly one of the hardest working ones as well. Having put out seven (7) releases (this EP, a live album, a 72-track “food journal” with Jake Tobin, a “Christmas gift” with his partner, a 24-hour recording session, a full-length album, and another album?), as well as go on tour with Dent May over the summer, this EP is both surprisingly nd unsurprisingly one of the best pop releases of the year. Ben never seems to dissappoint with absurd lyrics mixed with almost always upbeat melodies.

Lily and Horn Horse – Next to Me

The third release this year from Lily Konigsberg and second with this project with Matt Norman, it is filled with everything they claim to be inspired by, which is the “Baby One More Time” era of Britney Spears and Bill Callahan at his coziest. This collaborative album feels as though they have been making music together for years even though this is only their second release together.

– Isabella

Le Grotto’s “Bump the Lamp” Review

Olympia-based indie rock band, Le Grotto’s sophomore album Bump the Lamp takes a slightly different approach from their last year’s self-titled album with glimpses of fresh perspectives and progressions. Opening new layers of instrumentation beyond their traditional rock convention, featuring saxophone, xylophone, cello, organ and a handful of samples. Frontman Laith Scherer’s vocals are stronger than ever as Alek Gayton’s drumming and Will Willard’s bass playing express their talents equally as well. As the tracks move along, their signature sound stays intact while presenting a more raw and complex sound. Emotional themes of loss come strong on tracks like “People Die,” yet tastefully seguing onward towards better times.

An album that seems to blur together in colors never seen before, as if in a hazy smoke filled dream, Le Grotto teases with shorter tracks, a few at under a minute (“My Name’s _____” and “West Philly,” respectively). This almost seems to hint at future revisits of these recordings, or maybe it’s to emphasize the elasticity of their songs performed live. Surprisingly, this change doesn’t break the signal-chain vibe of Bump the Lamp. This release seems to suggest an insight into the countless days of recording, making new friends, losing old ones, playing shows and dreaming big. The album concludes with what some recall as their most energetic song “The PAG.” At barely under 25 minutes, this album makes its head right before their zig zag to the east coast tour, leaving audience members with an aesthetically Goosebumps-esque memento of their surf garage rock experience.

Bump the Lamp will be available September 1st, 2017 on Le Grotto’s Bandcamp. It will also be available on cassette through Olympia, WA label 2060.

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The Melodic Tree’s Top Six Albums of the Year

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1. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial

2016 was a break-out year for Will Toledo, aka Car Seat Headrest, whether it was signing to Matador Records to releasing Teens of Denial, their second on the label and first that consisted of entirely new material. On their thirteenth album, Toledo’s lyrics are, as always, emotional and reflective, looking at his dealing with mental illness and dealing with the inevitable feeling of dread that has been a recurring theme throughout this album and their previous 12. In the opening track, “Fill in the Blank,” Toledo goes on to say: “You have no right to be depressed. You haven’t tried hard enough to like it. Haven’t seen enough of this world yet. But it hurts, it hurts, it hurts, it hurts. Well stop your whining, try again.” The idea of no one truly understanding his depression and what is going on inside his head repeats back and forth in this song until the outro when he affirms he has a right to be depressed and that he has tried to fight it. This reflectiveness is not uncommon for Toledo in the third track on Teens in Denial, “Vincent,” where he talks about googling his depression and his previous albums, especially the track, “We Can’t Afford (Your Depression Anymore)” on his album, Nervous Young Man. This cleaner sounding and breakout album from Car Seat Headrest is just the beginning of what will be even more critcal success for the band in the future.

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2. Bon Iver – 22 A Million

The highly anticipated return of Bon Iver and follow up to 2011’s self-titled, 22 A Million, heads in a completely different direction than what Justin Vernon has done in his history. However, it is somewhat expected from Bon Iver as For Emma, Forever Ago, showed what Vernon could do alone, not including what he released previously under his own name, and Bon Iver showed what could be done with a full band and recording with more people. 22 A Million shows what Vernon can do as a musician and what the band can do outside the realms they built for themselves in indie folk. This turn to a more experimental and somewhat strange new sound that Bon Iver brings to the table with this album is an interesting new step in what might be a new era of the band.

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3. Mitski – Puberty 2

The 25-year-old singer-songwriter, Mitski’s fourth studio album discusses the struggles of being happy from day to day, especially shown on the track, “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars,” where she sings: “I don’t know how I’m gonna pay rent. I wanna see the whole world. Would you kill me, Jerusalem.” The lyrics go on to talk about how she hopes she does well in a job interview and the stereotypical interviewee line “I work better under deadlines” being repeated. This sort of trying to find something to grasp onto in order to find some sort of happiness in the cloud of depression and anxiety is a recurring theme throughout this album as Mitski shows off her chaotically good sound that she has had across her discography.

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4. The Growlers – City Club

The Growlers, have always managed to combine “country, surf pop and rock” all into one, something that is somewhat trademark to them and lead to the definition of their sound, “Beach Goth” to a popular festival under the same name. The industrial-esque funkiness of “I’ll Be Around” allows it to be one of the best tracks on the albums. Another notable track is “Neverending Line” because of how seemingly miserable the chorus sounds: “It’s the end of a line. Another shit job. Another piss-stained room. Another tomb. Another city. Hardly make it to the other side. Just to find, it ain’t so pretty.” The darkness of this song encompasses the album and its mood in what seemed to be one of the somewhat slower tracks.

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5. Iji – Bubble

The almost always upbeatness of iji’s (pronounced “eehee”) latest album, Bubble, is the perfect album for anyone in need for the perfectly groovy pop album. The song, “Wild Music,” is particularly a favorite, where the singer, guitarist, and saxophonist, talks about wanting to “play the saxophone in your band” and the fluidity of this track is both is invigorating as it gets to the two-minute mark and soothing at the same time. This eccentrically melodic pop album is erratic as they masterfully maneuver through these weird but engrossing 13 tracks.

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6. The Washboard Abs – Have U Scanned Ur Club Card

Denver-born and Olympia-based, The Washboard Abs’ Have U Scanned Ur Club Card gracefully goes through bedroom indie music as Clarke Sondermann sings somber and reflective lyrics in the seemingly melancholic backing tracks. The song, “Window,” is the perfect example on this album as the lyrics are earnest (i.e.“Early in the morning but later in the day, your brother snoring the sky will slowly grey, and I will drink my coffee and I will try to say I think about you often I hope you’re not okay”) and yet it is a seemingly warm song with the guitar repeats. The third track, “Sugar Skulls” differs n the sense that it is somewhat more upbeat and the Sondermann’s lyrics talk about self-destruction. They are one of our favorite local bands and it makes sense why they are on the rise and opening for bigger and bigger indie bands.

Day for Night festival 2016 brings music and art together in Houston

Day for Night festival launched its second year to a hot and humid December day in Houston TX. This immersive festival full of art installations and music set the stage for some of the most innovative artists in all ends of the spectrum. During its first day artists like The Jesus and Mary Chain, Thundercat, ODESZA, Nick Murphy, DJ Windows 98, Tycho and Run The Jewels lit up the festival with Aphex Twin returning for the first time to the United States after 8 years.

During Aphex’s performance, festival goers felt the icy breeze come through as they cheered from relief, later to be rained on as they continued to dance to Aphex’s hits. It was reported that Björk was dancing in the front row in the rain. Art installations included works from NONOTAK, Ezra Miller, Tundra, and Shoplifter among many others.

During its second day welcomed in artists like Ariel Pink, powerful duo Lightning Bolt, Mykki Balnco, Kamasi Washington, hip hop veteran RZA feat. Stone Mecca, the reunion of Butthole Surfers, Kaskade and Travis Scott.

Björk performed an 80 minute DJ set complete with shrubbery around the stage, sporting a beautiful red outfit with an ornate lighted mask as her followers danced along to various sounds from tribal chants to pop hits. The packed stage where she performed was virtually inaccessible as the sea of people surrounded the stage.

Day for Night festival is among one of the most remarkable music festivals I’ve ever covered since the mixture of art and music coexisting in one place opened the minds and hearts of festival goers that are used to typical grass and mud festivals. It’s surely set a precedent in that community and we cannot wait for next year’s installment.

By: Oscar Moreno

Early Look at Local Natives’ “Sunlit Youth”

We here at Melodic Tree were lucky enough to get our hands on Local Natives’ upcoming album, Sunlit Youth, and after listening to it on repeat for a few days we thought we’d share a few of our initial reactions and maybe give you some things to look forward to on the official release date this Friday.

If you have already listened to the three singles that have been released off the new album – “Villainy”, “Past Lives”, and “Fountain of Youth” – or if you have read some of our past posts regarding Sunlit Youth then you are well aware that Local Natives have evolved quite a bit since their Gorilla Manor days. As a sort of an expansion upon the sound of their 2013 release, Hummingbird, LN has made synth sounds a much more prominent aspect of their music. The best example of this is the opening track and previously released single, “Villainy”. This song might show a closer resemblance to a group like Empire of the Sun rather than the sound we fell in love with on Local Native’s debut record, but is none the less a powerful synth pop opening to the album and a great indicator of the direction the band is striving towards.

If the sound of “Villainy” is maybe not your cup of tea, fear not for there are plenty of gems to keep you engaged throughout the rest of the album. For instance, possibly one of the best moments of Sunlit Youth is the vocals on the third track, “Dark Days”. Not only are the lyrics engaging and the melody beautiful, but the incorporation of Nina Persson’s voice is a godsend. Singer-songwriter of the Swedish pop group The Cardigans as well as a number of her own solo efforts, Persson’s tender voice lends perfectly to those of the rest of the band. As she takes the second verse solo and then harmonizes flawlessly with the rest of the group, one might think that she was meant to be a Local Native.

Although at this point you might have an idea in your head about what the whole album sounds like, we promise Sunlit Youth will surprise you, and that is what’s so great about it. In the song “Masters” the band flirts with electronica (side note: if Local Natives wrote more of this kind of music, clubs would be way better); we get an almost hip-hop vibe in the song “Jellyfish” featuring Moses Sumney; “Coins” comes out of nowhere with a surprisingly fitting quasi-R&B sound fit with wailing vocals and all; and even a throwback to the classic LN sound with “Ellie Alice”.

In summary, Sunlit Youth is engaging but perhaps not what longtime Local Natives fans would expect. We still hear their signature cryptic yet beautiful lyricism paired with gorgeous harmonies, but now the musical context in which those aspects appear is different. So if you’re willing to give this new evolution a chance, we think you’ll have no problem remaining a die hard Local Natives Fan.

The Melodic Tree’s top 10 albums of 2015

10. Wanted On Voyage – George Ezra: There is something about George Ezra’s low, fairly surprising voice that captured the hearts of his fans that lead to his ultimate widespread success on this album. Songs like his hit “Budapest” gives the aura of him being from another era and not a British twenty-something. The variety of the album while also maintaining its simplicity makes it accessible to a wider range of audience.

9. Currents – Tame Impala: Tame Impala returned on this album with as much ambition as they had before. They have returned with their familiar sound but somehow managed to come back fresh and the band never seems to fail and experimenting with their music without much disappointment.

8. If I Should Go Before You – City & Colour: Maybe this album is on the because Dallas Green never seems to fail at pulling at the heartstrings of everyone who comes across his music, however, this album seems to maintain a much more electric sound compared to his previous releases. But, the lyrics stay true to his much praised sound and maintains his classic voice while transitioning to this new sound.

7. Nathaniel Ratecliff & The Night Sweat – Nathaniel Ratecliff and The Night Sweats: It’s such a strange happening when a band like this releases an album so strong and have a song named “S.O.B.” about drinking after a breakup. However, this didn’t take away from his massive voice is overwhelming and is accompanied by what sounds like a band that belongs to a soul artist at the start of that era. This album is one that helping lead the way to new soul becoming more and more popular.

6. All We Need – Raury: It’s hard to find such an ambitious 19 year-old who can have such an eclectic sound on an album. Combing soul, hip-hop, and folk, Raury genre hops throughout the album and never seems to miss a beat of it. The lyrics stay the main catch as the transition between melancholia,  especially in tracks like “Forbidden Knowledge,” and optimism as the album progresses.

5. Vestiges & Claws – José González: In the subtle layers in each song, his voice stays soft and calm with cyclical guitar. The track “The Forest” features the flute and cello which seem to add the sense of solitude that is recurrent in the album. Even though his songs are gradual, the have massive themes including how to situate in the world and making your voice heard.

4. I Love You, Honeybear – Father John Misty: As a sincere ode to his wife, Father John Misty demonstrated the intimacy and attachment he has felt towards her through of it. The stand-out track on the LP is the hit, “Chateau Lobby #4 (In C for Two Virgins)” where he displays this grand sound through brass and strings.

3. Prom King – Skylar Spence: Ever since transitioning from Saint Pepsi to his current stage name, the sound that comes from Prom King seems to be the monument that seems to suit such a name. This type of nu disco sound is hard to discover anywhere else and seems to focus thematically on love, which especially shown in tracks like “Fall Harder.” Skylar Spence fulfills wishes that any fan would want to hear on this first album under the name.

2. The Epic – Kamasi Washington: Kamasi Washington’s jazz debut is one of a kind and seems to move seemingly track after track. Even at three hours, the album has a smooth energy to it, never letting it feel like it should be any less. Every aspect of the album seems to be meticulously put together, which makes it such a compositional overload. Such a jazz album now is hard to come by and with the sound it has, it sounds similar to those that influenced him as a child. No matter what is going on, The Epic seems to never disappoint.

1. To Pimp A Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar: Kendrick Lamar probably had the most groundbreaking year with this album. It maintains this cinematic way of incorporating various themes, dealing heavily with racism, and networking various dramas and different characters. Lamar has this overarching tone of chaos and wryness, sometimes may it be all at once, but under the chaos, there is the narration of avoidance of the manifestation of the devil, Lucy and saying his fame has not helped his family at home.