This was a feature that I used to do for the Daily Californian’s Arts & Entertainment blog. I decided to give it life again here. At the end of each month, I’ll post a feature highlighting five quality tracks released during that month.
1. American Wrestlers: “I Can Do No Wrong”
This band took me completely by surprise. “I Can Do No Wrong” is reminiscent of a lot of indie pop/rock out there, but it’s more nuanced and invigorating. The song seamlessly weaves three different kinds of guitar sounds together — gritty guitar chords, jangly guitar arpeggios, and an acoustic guitar backdrop. The part that takes this song from “really good” to “great” occurs at 2:17, when the “gritty” guitar stops, leaving just the beautifully upbeat, acoustic guitar chord changes and a drum machine. The singer comes in with a catchy melody, and the rest is history. It’s a perfect slice of mid-2000’s-style indie, but with a twist that makes it wholly modern.
2. Nai Harvest: “All the Time”
This is just the jolt of youthful energy I needed. The more Japandroids-esque music out there, the better. Nai Harvest’s full-length album, Hairball, does nothing new, but it’s right up my alley.
3. Alabama Shakes: “Sound & Color”
I already talked about these guys in February when “Don’t Wanna Fight” came out, but with the release of their brilliant second album Sound & Color, they deserve a repeat appearance. I’ll admit that despite my respect for Brittany Howard’s killer voice and their true Southern blues rock sound on their debut record, I wasn’t “all in” on them. It was clear that they had real talent, but I wasn’t convinced that they could do anything more than a generic rehashing of the blues.
Sound & Color totally obliterates my reductive assumptions. Instead of going through the motions, the band expanded their sound and filled the album with ideas. This makes the album interesting. And somehow, they did this with ease and poise, without coming off as “trying too hard,” which is an extremely difficult feat. This makes the album great. Look no further than the slow-burning title track to see how adeptly they play with new sounds (bells, unique harmonies), showing a certain softness while still maintaining their confident swagger.
4. Matt & Kim: “Can You Blame Me”
No one goes to Matt & Kim for depth. It’s all fun, all the time, to the point that it can sometimes get a little tiring, but they have some true gems (see “Daylight” and “Let’s Go” for some examples). Their latest album New Glow isn’t amazing, but it’s definitely an enjoyable listen. “Can You Blame Me” is the best of the bunch — as happy-go-lucky and catchy as it gets.
5. Ryan Adams: “How Much Light”
Ryan Adams has been on a creative kick lately. After dropping an (excellent) album last year, he’s been releasing a constant stream of EPs and singles. The latest is a single, “I Do Not Feel Like Being Good”, with a couple of B-sides to go along (three songs in total). I recommend checking out all three, but my favorite is probably “How Much Light.” It’s just Adams’ acoustic guitar and his affecting vocals, recorded in a single afternoon. Adams can rock, but when he tones it down and strips his sound to just the basics, he’s transcendent.