Tag Archives: indie pop

Monthly Playlist: Feb. 2019

1 Mar

Last month, we started a new feature here at Top Five Records: a run-down of the top five songs from every month. We heard from quite a few of you that you loved it – so without further ado, here’s our list for this month!

5. “Body Chemistry” – The Drums

Don’t let the unrelenting bassline on “Body Chemistry” fool you into thinking it’s a harmless, upbeat bop. On this new track from the NYC-based indie-pop band The Drums, lead singer Jonathan Pierce provides a peak-millennial take on anxiety, romance, and the crippling self-awareness in between. “I know some good luck, and a good fuck, a nice glass of wine and some quality time is gonna make you mine,” he acknowledges, “but it’s not what I’m trying to find.” The song itself reminds us of some of the best tracks on Spoon’s last album, so that’s always a good thing as well. The Drums are set to release their fourth album in June.

4. “In the Capital” – Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever

Melbourne-based pop-rock quintet Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever (there’s a mouthful!) had a very well-received debut album (Hope Downs) last year. Their sound is essentially a cross between the woe-is-me melancholy of Deerhunter and the sparkling pop of Real Estate – but it’s not as odd a combination as you would think. “In the Capital”, a new track that was released earlier this week, apparently came about as lead singer Fran Keaney was swimming. “I can’t neatly describe it, but something like connection despite distance. I was thinking about transience and water and death and big cities and fishing towns and moon river,” he says. Have a listen for yourself – we think he’s got it down spot-on, actually.   

3. “Fast Times” – Albert Hammond Jr.

Albert Hammond Jr.’s third full-length album, Francis Trouble, won us over last year with its boisterous yet clean-cut vibe. With “Fast Times”, Hammond is back with a track that is equal parts nostalgic and melancholic. “I was over there, completely unaware / It was me, that you saw / How little did I know / All the things would go,” Hammond sings, wistfully reminiscing about carefree days long gone. The music is of course immediately evocative of the early 2000s-heyday of crisp, fast-paced rock, for which Hammond’s past (and present!) band, the Strokes, were a primary driver. After “Fast Times”, we’re certainly keeping an eye out for more music from Hammond.

2. “GummyBear” – Mini Mansions

Mini Mansions are an LA-based three-piece band comprising The Last Shadow Puppets’ bassist Zach Dawes, QOTSA bassist-turned-singer Michael Shuman and Tyler Parkford. If that line-up sounds like the band would make fun, bass-driven tracks that could fit well within Humbug-era Arctic Monkeys, you are exactly right. In fact, Mini Mansions are just coming off of a supporting tour on that band’s North America leg, and something great seems to have rubbed off of on them. “GummyBear” is an instantly accessible dance-rock track about a love-hate relationship (“Boy, I thought you was sweet, girl, but you’re just sugar-free”). Mini Mansions plans to release their third full-length album, Guy Walks into a Bar… in July – look for them!

1. “NASA” – Ariana Grande

This month, Ariana Grande released thank u, next, her much-awaited follow-up to 2018’s blockbuster hit, Sweetener. New converts to Arianaworld, such as yours truly, were skeptical that a brand-new album mere months after the monstrously successful Sweetener could live up to the hype that Ariana has created for herself. However, those thoughts can be laid to rest and buried under six feet of earth, because Ariana is almost definitely the new queen of pop music.

The title track from the new album, of course, has been in constant rotation on radio stations and Spotify playlists since late last year, but there are actually a shockingly high number of other great songs on there, too. The best of these, in our opinion, is “NASA”, a space-themed ode to modern romance. “I’d rather be alone tonight / You can say ‘I love you’ through the phone tonight,” she says, an on-the-head flip of decades of popstars who’ve told us that they need to be around their men 24/7. Of course, being an Ariana track, there is also a maddeningly catchy chorus – this one involving a playful spell-out of the titular government agency. We’d be surprised if this song alone doesn’t play a part in raising the brand value of NASA.

Read our full review of thank u, next here.

Deerhunter – Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?

29 Jan

Mixing upbeat pop with depressing lyrics is arguably the biggest cliché in the indie music scene. Juxtaposing the two sounds is an easy way for lesser bands to come off as deep while cleverly hiding an inability to craft complex music. Deerhunter are among a small subset of bands that have proven able to rise above the trope. Over the past two decades, the band has created some incredibly layered music that warrants multiple revisits to understand its intricacies and hidden depths.

Deerhunter’s eighth album Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared thankfully continues this trend, with the 10-song LP finding the band at both their most pop-sounding and their most nihilistic, with polished sounds playing off depressingly bleak lyrics.

Take the album’s second track, “No One’s Sleeping”, where the electric clavichord and up-tempo drums hide the depressing childlike lyrics (“No one’s sleeping / great unrest / in the country / there’s much duress”). Frontman Bradford Cox has commented extensively on the influence played by British MP Jo Cox’s assassination at the hand of a right-wing assailant, but you wouldn’t dwell on it until you dig deeper.

Another standout track that repeats this recurring theme of pop-laden nihilism is “What Happens to People?”. There’s this 2-chord piano phrase that sticks in your head, almost distracting you from the song’s underlying message: “What happens to people? / They fade out of view”.

Disappeared is also notably timely and (very subtly) political, abandoning the band’s earlier nostalgia shtick. This is an album replete with visions of a decaying civilisation that call you not to arms, but to introspective attention, such as in “Détournement” or “Futurism”. It’s almost impossible in this day and age to devoid art from politics and the current state of the world, but Deerhunter’s take is somewhat refreshing even if it does require the occasional hiding-of-sharp-objects to process.

Album opener “Death in Midsummer”

Ultimately, Disappeared is probably not going to make too many year-end lists, nor is it going to drastically expand the band’s wagon. Still, it’s a very solid addition to an already stuffed catalogue, and will definitely have you hitting replay (and, quite likely, a nearby pub).

Porter Robinson: Worlds

29 Nov

When you get down to it, Worlds is just a meeting point between indie pop and EDM. There’s enough space there to create a variety of sounds for the album, and there’s enough talent here to make it consistently very listenable. The issue is that the touchstones never feel far. I lose focus when listening to something like half the album because I’ve heard the core of it before.

For all of that though, this album is large, varied and quite solid. The beats of something like “Flicker” for instance are undeniable. This is enough of an album to win a smile as long as it is playing. I just wish it forced some thought as well.

@murthynikhil

Lykke Li – I Never Learn & Live at the Fox Theater (21/9/2014)

24 Sep

I’ve been listening a lot to the new Lykke Li album I Never Learn and also happened to have tickets to her concert last Sunday, so in the standard hyper-efficient Top Five Records manner, here is both the album and concert review.

I Never Learn

It has been a while since I’ve heard an album as dedicated to ballads as this one. I Never Learn is not just a collection of true pop ballads, it is a collection of true pop ballads about a break-up. It is also an excellent one, if a little repetitive.

Firstly, Lykke Li’s voice is consistently amazing. It is rich, human and above all communicative. She ranges from the more hazy “Just Like A Dream” to the frighteningly destructive “Gunshot” with ease. Her ballads are powerful and personal things. The entire album blames herself for the failure of the relationship and mines that vein deeply.

There lies my major complaint with the album though, it falls a little too far into sameness. It’s not precisely one-note, the slow “Love Me Like I’m Not Made Of Stone” is followed immediately by the anthemic “Never Going To Love Again”, but the album does blend together. There are songs that stand out, the aforementioned “Gunshot” and “No Rest For The Wicked” are excellent, but too much of the rest feels undifferentiated.

Nevertheless, this is a beautiful set of ballads and an excellent album. The relationship the album is drawn from may have ended, but with music like this her listeners at least will never let her go.

Live at the Fox Theater (21/9/2014)

Mapei

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The show was opened by Mapei, a Swedish genre-bending pop artist. Her set was inconsistent, but fun despite that. Her sound is rooted in pop but mixes in hip-hop and R&B and even has her occasionally rapping. Her debut album Hey Hey has just released and is definitely worth checking out.

Lykke Li

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Lykke Li herself was a pleasure to see. As with her records, her voice served her beautifully. She did not restrict herself to just her latest album and that added some welcome variance. Her sound has shifted a fair bit over the years and hearing them all made for an interesting concert. Besides, it was fun to hear her hits. Personally, “Little Bit” was the standout moment of the concert for me, but “No Rest for the Wicked” was also really good and her cover of The Boss’ “I’m On Fire” was exceptional.

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Additionally, her stage presence was amazing. She was frankly flirtatious during the entire thing, and she did it wonderfully. It was like watching her at prom, she felt young and happy. Her manner did a huge amount for the show. When the performer is clearly enjoying herself and feels at ease, it’s hard not to follow suit.

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This was a great show and it had everything that I look for, varied and great music with improvisation and done with personality to boot.

@murthynikhil

Broken Bells: After The Disco

8 Aug

Broken Bells, the side-project of the Shins’ James Mercer and Danger Mouse, have come together here to make their second album. After the Disco proves to be a very listenable, if rarely challenging pop album.

This is a consistent and cohesive album, running its themes of the disco beat by way of synth pop and occasionally blues-rock. “Holding On For Life” does a strong Bee Gees impression over a pulp science-fiction
story. “Leave It Alone” provides an interesting diversion into soft-rock and confessionals. However, the album as a whole lacks strong moments. The sum is a little too bland to recommend.

After the Disco ends up being a very gentle album. It has no major offenses, but fails to achieve distinction. This is a pleasant album and I enjoyed listening to it, but I’m not going to regret forgetting it.

@murthynikhil

Phantogram: Voices

21 Jul


Voices is exactly what it appears to be, a good indie pop album. There’s a little more R&B and a little more hip-hop here than you would find on, say, the CHVRCHES album, but it still hits all the notes you expect it to and hits them well.

Sarah Barthel’s vocals are excellent throughout and shift the songs around the more static beats behind them beautifully. The beats themselves are easy to fall into. This is a hard album to tire of.

The album suffers from some inconsistency though. Songs like “Black Out Days” and “Howling at the Moon” cannot help but be stand-out tracks, but much of the rest does not bring that same level of intensity. Also, while Sarah Berthel’s vocals are amazing, the couple of times that the other half of Phantogram, Josh Carter, takes the mic are sub-par.

At the end of the day, Voices is an album with plenty of strengths, but ends up a little forgettable.

@murthynikhil

Diana: Perpetual Surrender

22 May

Perpetual Surrender is now inextricably linked to the video game Hearthstone for me. The nice thing about Hearthstone is that it is a game that you can play with whatever music you like and I have had Perpetual Surrender on hand for a while now. This is good, solid music. I could listen to this album indefinitely. I just doubt that I will remember any of it later.

This is a glossy, 80’s revivalist pop album that is fun to listen to. That statement is neither praise nor damnation, merely fact. It is the kind of album where soft saxophone solos play over synths. “Perpetual Surrender” is often intriguing. “That Feeling” is an excellent song with undeniable catchiness. Yet, for all of the album’s many strengths, it is a little too bland to truly champion.

This album is a person at a party, a person who is dressed nicely and seems to have everything together. A person with whom you have an interesting chat and share some laughs. A person with whom you enjoy the time you spend. At some point though, you have to leave the party and you leave unchanged. I needed something more.

@murthynikhil

Naturally Scattered: An Interview with Raxit Tewari

26 Feb

Scatter Nature

Raxit Tewari’s main band Sky Rabbit is something of an Indian indie legend. It started off as a metal band called Medusa that dropped six-track album way back in 2005, before transforming itself into the current electro-pop/indie avatar which won big at the JD Rock Awards this year.

Tewari’s solo side project Your Chin seems to have been born from the same ethos that caused Medusa’s alchemic transformation into Sky Rabbit. It may seem like effortless mood-music, but there is a solid groundwork of talent and aesthetic sense that supports it all.

Tewari describes his second EP, Scatter Nature, as soundtrack music for a solitary walk through a busy city, possibly his hometown of Mumbai. It’s pretty much a perfect summation: Scatter Nature made us think of strangers colliding and interacting like independent particles in this harried world.

“Run Along Now Little One” is the stand-out track on the EP. Tewari’s signature, peculiarly flat vocals describe arcane prophecies (“Laughing gas will burn us while we’re dodging tragedies”) over music that introspects, sighs and flows along with the pace of life. The accompanying video, directed by Misha Ghose and Naman Saraiya, is perhaps the perfect accompaniment. It syncs Raxit’s music with grungy tableaus of Mumbai life – a red telephone, a rusty lock, smoggy skylines – showcasing editor Sourya Sen’s skills as much as the directors’ or the artist’s.

This is not to say that the other three songs on Scatter Nature aren’t worth mentioning. “Fingerprints & Mugshots” is a deal less dreamy than but in a way more wholesome in sound. The phrasing of words and sentences on “Who Would Have Thought” is a character on its own. And the plaintive stretch of the titular words on “For Love”, layered over an electro-pop version of almost-dance music, is just pure magic. It’s also the closest to Sky Rabbit, in our opinion.

All in all, Scatter Nature is a great EP. It got us really excited about what we might hear from Your Chin in the future.

So excited, in fact, that we decided to hear from him now. To round off our review, here’s a short interview with none other than Raxit Tewari himself!

Photo credits: Anuj Prajapati

Photo credits: Anuj Prajapati

Top Five Records: Let’s start with something that we’re quite curious about. Why the chin, of all body parts?

Your Chin: It sucks when it walks out on you. Chewing is almost impossible. You’re left to ingesting with plastic pipes going straight into your esophagus. And that’s just one of the many things. It’s important to acknowledge and address it if you want to prevent all of this.

TFR: Artists often create solo projects to express ideas that might not fit in with other, non-solo acts. How does your musical process with Your Chin differ from how you go about making and publicizing music as a part of Sky Rabbit?

YC: Your Chin’s mostly about sitting in a room and writing/producing music with a computer. I have been tinkering with software for a while now and wanted to see if I could produce some worthwhile music like this.

TFR: Where does your music take inspiration from? Was there a particular artist or even a set of experiences that really guided you here?

YC: A lot of things really. All of them get sewn in. It keeps happening over time.

TFR: You’ve previously described your first EP as the sound of the city, presumably a seethingly busy one like Mumbai, moving along with you. What’s the right frame of mind for this one?

YC: This one’s more of a put-it-on-your-phones-and-go-for-a-walk-EP.

TFR: There’s a lot going on in your music – in terms of technique, texture and style. Tell us a little bit about your working process.

YC: I usually put down smaller ideas on impulse and then build on them at a later stage.

TFR: You recently opened for Gotye at the Oz Fest in Delhi. What was that experience like?

YC: Gotye has a terrific live act. Was an honour to open for someone who is so on top of his game.

TFR: Your style of music is not the most common type out there in India. What has the response been like, in gigs and festivals around the country?

YC: It’s been wonderful. Not underwhelming in anyway. It’s been very consistently progressive over the last few years.

TFR: We loved the music video for “Run Along Little One”, especially the beautiful, grungy montage of urban life. Tell us a little bit about the creative process that went into making this video.

YC: Thank you! Glad you loved it. We went out for a day and shot a whole lot of this place not far from home. Literally rediscovered it in so many ways. Found new nooks and corners. It was extremely impulsive and a lot of fun.

TFR: The last question we have for you is a pretty standard one. Who is the one artist, alive or dead, that you’d most like to work with?

YC: Brian Eno?

So there you have it. Listen to Scatter Nature below!

CHVRCHES at Fox Theater (17/11/2013)

18 Nov

You may recall that I was one of the many people who were very excited about the CHVRCHES album that released earlier this year. I was however disappointed by the album, which made the tickets I had bought earlier to see them live seem a bit foolish. Thankfully, their concert was highly enjoyable, proving that decisions made with limited information are the best kind of decisions.

I have a weakness for intelligent pop groups with a female singer and the CHVRCHES seemed right up my alley. Thoroughly anointed and highly hyped, they made a big splash before their album dropped and their singles were nothing short of glorious. It was just that the rest of their album could not match up to those high points. We all make mistakes and the world is littered with concert tickets of regret. Nevertheless, I didn’t dislike the album and I really liked some of the singles, so despite still feeling a little cheated, I made myself a little less unpresentable and stepped out.

The opening act Basecamp was a rather typical opening act. Their music was acceptable, but the crowd seemed more interested in their conversations than in the band. This was reasonable, as despite Basecamp actually sounding good, their set had nothing stand out. This is the kind of band you want playing at a pub when out with friends, something that sounds good when you want to listen to the music, but otherwise stays out of the way.

The CHVRCHES did not start out well. The beginning few songs were okay, but not quite up to the standard of their album. This culminated in a very sub-par version of “Lies“, by far my favorite of their songs. However, once their initial hiccups were out of the way and they fell into the flow of their music, the concert became quite good. I’m more than willing to forgive a few missteps from a jet-lagged and slightly sick band and the way they powered through the rest of their set made doing so trivial. “Science/Visions” was impossibly good and “The Mother We Share” was very strong.

There was also a very hammed-up “Under The Tide”, but these things happen and it was the only time Martin Doherty got the spotlight. There is a reason that Lauren Mayberry is the front of this band and for most of the show she had it. The band took plenty of time during their set to chat with the crowd, which incidentally was the most enthusiastic crowd I have ever seen. The teenagers at the Marina concert may have had more energy, but these fans made up for that in dedication. The talking was fun, if often inaudible, and honestly the band did need something to stretch out their performance a little. They only have so many songs to perform after all.

Maybe it was the concert setting, or maybe it was the intense light show that went on throughout the concert, but I think that it was just that they are a great live band. This was a highly enjoyable night for me and one that I will definitely repeat when they next come to the area.

Chvrches: The Bones of What You Believe

27 Oct

The CHVRCHES debut album The Bones of What You Believe is one of the most highly anticipated releases of this year. Their singles were nothing short of glorious. Excellent synths, emotional tenderness and above all the wonderful voice of Lauren Mayberry. It was hard not to be excited for this release, hard not to get caught up in the flow of how good this was going to be and now that it is out, hard not to feel a little disappointed. This is a good album, with some exceptional moments, but it is a workhorse of an album, not a Khartoum.

The moments though are really, really good. For instance, I honestly don’t believe that it is possible for me to get tired of Lies. That song is everything about what the CHVRCHES are when they are good. The synths are everything you want them to be. They move, they shift and they destroy inhibitions. The lyrics are sharp and personal, and above all, they are just delivered so well. Lauren Mayberry’s voice has rightly been lauded universally and this song is the best justification of why that one can find.

Having said that though, the majority of the album is more like Under The Tide or Night Sky. I don’t actually dislike those songs, but I am slightly happier to have anything else play instead. The music just bores me. It does not change enough and it doesn’t do enough. The only time that I notice that Tether is playing is when it’s about to end because that is when Lies will start. All of the components are in place; hooks, lines and synths, but the whole is often just not enough to catch me.

The is often a good album, but the good parts feel the exception rather than the norm and on the whole, I’m looking forward to leaving it behind.

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