grlztoy’s “green!” EP shows the versatility of an uber-talented new indie band

grlztoy’s “green!” EP shows the versatility of an uber-talented new indie band

Another band I’ve seen pop up in my socials a bunch is the band grlztoy of the DMV area, made up of Theo Zamani (lead vocals, guitar) and Molly Izer (drums). Their EP green!, released last June, is an assured and confident debut I think is worth listening to for anyone into indie pop/rock.

For a release that’s only 12 minutes long, grlztoy easily establishes themselves with just six tracks. The opener, the title song, is only a minute long but still establishes a calming, slightly psychedelic mood through the guitars and slightly echoed drums. It’s ultimately just an intro to the EP, but it still feels complete. Each song carries the same vibe established in the intro title track, creating a hazy, colorful, summer night atmosphere. 

The next three songs, “spring (untied shoes)”, “say when”, and “wavelength” are all a showcase to both members’ talents. Throughout the album, Theo’s singing is wonderful, clearly inspired by both a lot of 90s and 2010s indie singers, but she still almost equals those obvious influences in her abilities. Her voice is sweet and soft, but is still expressive when it needs to be. She carries a song like “say when” by sounding sweet and romantic in a way that’s earnest and never anything but genuine. Molly’s drumming is also consistently great, giving each song a fun, up-tempo groove. Her style varies neatly from cozy indie rock (“teenage dirtbag”), sort of bluesy (“keychain piano”), to garage power pop (the totally killer “wavelength”). 

Admittedly, the band is still very new and occasionally some songs could use more substance (ex. “keychain piano” being clearly a mess-about band jam but still entertaining) or space to breathe. Still, despite having room to grow, green! is a kind of first release that makes you excited to see where the band will go next.

a tribute album heard round the world: “stop making sense: everyone’s getting involved”

a tribute album heard round the world: “stop making sense: everyone’s getting involved”

Talking Heads is easily my favorite band. They were the first band that really got me into being a massive music geek, and I can’t imagine where I’d be today without them. So, when I heard A24 was planning a large-scale tribute album of Talking Heads’ iconic Stop Making Sense concert film with a different artist covering each song, I got excited but also quite cautious. I loved the band was getting more exposure to new audiences, but who would A24 pick to cover each song? Would they choose artists that honor Talking Heads’ material but still do their own spin on it to keep it fresh?

I’ll go out and say immediately that many of the musicians featured on the album aren’t necessarily ones that would be on my shortlist for a covers album, but that’s not at all a bad thing. Part of Talking Heads’ appeal is the way they respected and performed countless music styles—sometimes multiple at once. They created a unique sound of punk, funk, dance, and art rock and still had room for inspirations from world music or hip-hop made them so forward-thinking. Choosing artists of a variety of styles complements the multicultural palette Talking Heads had worked with.

(Okay, but if I had to choose who I’d want on the album, I’d choose LCD Soundsystem, St. Vincent, HAIM, and a more contemporary post-punk band like Squid or black midi… I can dream.)

However, there was still another big concern I had with the announcement: it was a covers album. A known, respected artist doing a cover of a song is a tricky balancing act. You must honor the source material, but not too close to where it just sounds like you’re doing karaoke. But, if you divert from the original too much and go somewhere too new, it makes your cover just seem like a pointless exercise and you won’t make fans of the original happy. It’s difficult, but it’s totally possible to accomplish this mix.

With that said, the easy standouts of the album were the ones that got this balancing act down the best. Paramore’s cover of “Burning Down the House” kills with Hayley Williams’ stage presence and irresistible vocal performance, and “Crosseyed and Painless” done by Chicano Batman and Money Mark captures the original’s relentless, nonstop energy. It’s hard to recapture the feeling of such a soulful, heartwarming song, but the version of “This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)” by BADBADNOTGOOD and Norah Jones gets damn close. I’m a fan of the former’s lush 70s soul inspirations and using that with Jones’ comforting presence just makes their cover feel like a warm hug in all the same ways the original did. And, if Talking Heads’ cover of “Take Me to the River” equally combined them with Al Green, then Lorde’s cover of the same song is a satisfying blend of both her sound and Talking Heads’.

Some of the other covers closer to the originals can depend on your tastes. I liked The National’s version of “Heaven” which works well with their atmospheric indie folk sound, and quite like some of Aaron Dessner’s produced work for that one super famous rich white and blonde woman who I won’t name*. (*Forgive me, Meredith.) The Linda Lindas and girl in red do acceptable versions of “Found a Job” and “Girlfriend is Better” respectively without changing much, and I enjoyed seeing an African group represented on the album through highlife band The Cavemen’s version of “What a Day That Was”.

The problem with many other covers is that they’re too different from the originals, and it makes them difficult to judge. I love “Psycho Killer” and I’m fine with Miley Cyrus covering it, but why do it as a Lady Gaga-style EDM song? “Thank You for Sending Me an Angel” isn’t one of my favorite Talking Heads songs, yet it’s hard to get behind Blondshell doing a slow burn grunge version of it (albeit with a pretty rad guitar solo at the end). Then there’s some of the out-there covers like DJ Tunez performing “Life During Wartime” as an afrobeats-inspired trap song or Kevin Abstract going as far away from “Once in a Lifetime” as possible.

None of these songs are necessarily bad in terms of their sound or how they changed the originals, but they’re hard to appreciate in contrast to the other songs that try hard to honor the spirit of the originals. It’s not to say some covers work despite being too close to the originals (i.e. Teezo Touchdown’s “Making Flippy Floppy” or Toro y Moi’s “Genius of Love”), but perhaps the album could have functioned better with more direction as opposed to letting the artists run completely free.

Everyone’s Getting Involved isn’t bad, despite what some more closed-minded Talking Heads fans may say. However, it’s difficult to appreciate based on how different each artist approaches the original material. It has enough good covers to make the experience worthwhile, even if it may also leave you scratching your head at points. Still, nothing here stains Talking Heads’ enduring legacy as one of the best bands of its time.

razor braids’ new LP “big wave” is anguish and insecurity wrapped in a 90s indie throwback

razor braids’ new LP “big wave” is anguish and insecurity wrapped in a 90s indie throwback

Brooklyn’s own indie rock band Razor Braids just released Big Wave, their sophomore LP after 2021’s “I Could Cry If You Want Me To”. The new album is of a concept record about the timeline of going through a breakup, and lyrically it’s very personal. It goes into the narrator’s (which could be any of the members of the band, or multiple writing from shared experiences) feelings about their insecurities, self-doubts, and feelings of anguish within themselves. The lyrics are one of the strong points of the band, being clear, relatable, and easy to identify with as a listener.

Musically, the band’s style has its inspirations in 90s indie and alternative rock. There are many obvious comparisons like the lo-fi sound of Liz Phair, some Mazzy Star-style touches of psychedelia, as well as heavy grungy guitars that occasionally pop up. The production and guitar work on the album is consistently good, with a hazy but dreamy atmosphere composing many of the songs. Lead vocalist Hollye Bynum gives a lot of great performances throughout, showing her singing as more confident than the band’s earlier singles like “Nashville”. The backing vocals (contributed by rhythm guitarist Jillian Karande) are just as strong, though some of the best sounding parts of the album were when both vocalists harmonized, like on “B26” and “Windy Gap”. It’s an element of the band’s sound that I wish they used more.

My favorite track is the lead single, “She”, which is an upbeat pop-rock song that easily has the breeziest and most danceable groove on the album (with the drums provided by former member Sid Nichols). The band’s irresistible energy and chemistry here shines through, accentuated by brief giggles by the band as the song closes. However, while “She” is a great single, it differs a bit from the rest of the album in terms of its accessibility and focus on a pop chorus. Not that this is a bad thing, as mellow and downbeat songs like “It Goes Quiet” and the title track are still strong because of the earnest performances and lyrics, and especially from the lush guitars (from lead guitarist Janie Peacock) in the second half of the latter.

Big Wave is mostly a storytelling album rather than one that’s song driven. There’re points where the tracks can feel more about expressing emotions rather than structure and rhythm. This is most apparent on “JR”, which seems to explode with intensity as a musical emotional breakdown in the second half, as psychedelic guitars bury the vocals before they come crashing down on themselves. The vulnerability given from Bynum’s performances helps make this seem rawer and more effective.

All the songs are good, and the album is easy to recommend to fans of modern indie rock that are more into lyrically driven music. It’s not perfect, as I think it could’ve used another good hook or two and better pacing. Still, the album ends on a bittersweet but hopeful note on “There’s No Sound”, and I think the band still has a lot of talent and potential to build on based on the more promising parts of the album.

Big Wave may end up just being a steppingstone for a band that’s still evolving, but it’s captivating enough to look deeper into it.

scott guild’s plastic: the album is an abstract but intriguing slab of art-pop

scott guild’s plastic: the album is an abstract but intriguing slab of art-pop

Plastic: The Album by author/musician Scott Guild is hard to approach. It’s a companion piece to Guild’s debut novel of the same name that came out in February and recounts the book’s story. I haven’t read the book, and I’m not one of those nerds that read books for fun (though I am, admittedly, still a huge nerd), so I’m judging the album entirely on its own merits. 

While it seemed difficult initially to come at the album with solid reference points as a way of comparison, this sort of lore and mythology filled album isn’t entirely uncommon. Famous experimental pop icons like Kate Bush and Ethel Cain have made albums composed of songs made up of recurring characters, storylines, and extensive backstories that invite more analysis into the lyrics than a usual album. Even more mainstream musicians have done this, such as Taylor Swift on Folklore and Evermore, two of her most acclaimed albums. An album like Plastic can absolutely succeed without prior knowledge of the novel’s storyline and can work simply on the music itself.

For the most part, I’d say it’s an interesting and captivating, albeit not super accessible, listen. Guild is backed by more experimental musicians for support, like Cindertalk (a collaborator of Son Lux and My Brightest Diamond) and Stranger Cat (a collaborator of Sufjan Stevens, another good example of successful concept albums). With a murderers’ row of artsy musicians behind the album, it makes sense the genre is a touch hard to figure out too. Calling it just “art-pop” is simple, but a little too easy. I’d say it’s more of a mix of orchestral chamber music and downtempo electronica, with more focus on vocal performances and wispy atmosphere than rhythm.

When I say Plastic isn’t super accessible, I don’t mean this as a bad thing (I literally listen to Björk in my free time! Did I mention I’m a huge nerd?). I mean that in a sense that it’s better to approach the album not in a traditional sense, but more in the way of theater, opera, or something that demands your fullest attention when experiencing it. Guild mentioned he didn’t set out to make something contemporary and intended something more cinematic, which I think the album succeeds on.

Okay, now the actual music, which is mainly composed of strongly performed and composed ballads. Stranger Cat’s vocals (as the lead character of the novel) really elevate the material, creating a strong emotional quality that’s consistently captivating and brings out the theatricality that the material is going for. Songs like “Boytoy” and “Fiona” excel on the quality of her voice alone, and she provides enough depth to keep you invested in her performance even if you may not understand what’s going on in the story.

The production, as I said, is an interesting mix of electronica and orchestra. Plastic’s atmosphere is built largely around airy electronics that add to the dystopian future setting of the story. It has a dreamlike quality that can occasionally turn eerie, such as the echoey drum machines on “The Absence” that add to the tone and mood. The orchestrations are also sharp, adding to the dramatic elements of songs like “A Doll’s House” and “Worth the Loss”. There’s some interesting textures added in the instrumentation too, such as the glassy percussion on “Lightning” and the driving acoustic guitar on “Until They’re Home”. 

As I said, Plastic can be difficult to grasp for a casual music listener, but that’s the intent behind it. It’s a rewarding experience when given serious intent and your best attention when listening to it, and works as a fascinating listen even without knowing the source material.

Check out the playback from Friday’s album release here.

byland’s heavy for a while will actually leave you feeling free

byland’s heavy for a while will actually leave you feeling free

With her first, deep inhale at the top of the title track – which just so happens to be the first on Byland’s new release, Alie Byland signals a deep sigh of relief for us all. “Heavy For A While” is the vulnerable, soft intro to this 10-track masterpiece release, which is officially out now.

Byland – officially a duo comprised of Alie and her husband Jake, surname Byland – has chosen to create an album so beautifully relatable, especially post-pandemic. Says Alie, “It’s more so my own unfettered journey of finding a sense of home and comfortability with myself, wherever I am.”

With songs like “Postcard” and “Settle My Mind,” Byland addresses isolation in an expansive and thought-provoking way. The dissonance toward the end of “Settle My Mind” feels almost like the chaos that has been occurring inside of every human over the past 4 years, as we all grapple with our emotions and identities in the wake of so many mind-blowing global issues.

Alie and Jake, in particular, zoom in on emotions and thoughts from the darker COVID days, and a time when they were contemplating a cross-country move. They both worked separately, then married some of their ideas together and refined their work as a team to really work through the aforementioned isolation organically. And you can feel it in the songs – the composition and the lyrics. Melodies and lines serve as organic puzzle pieces building toward the whole picture – a true masterpiece of an album. To extract us from the humbling events of today, Alie’s voice carries us to another plane.

“Two Circles” addresses space and time itself, and was one of the first tracks I connected with upon first listening to Heavy For A While. Explains Alie: “[The track] feels like it changes meaning each time I get to sing it. I see myself in this song. I see others. I see love, pain, anger, frustration, joy, shame, angst, everything and nothing.” Its simplistic lyrics are open for interpretation, though each version feels like it addresses a relationship — with yourself, another, an emotion, an event in your life.

The pace of “Temporary Everything” wakes you up out of the gorgeous melody in “Two Circles,” giving sonic momentum to this section of the album. It grapples with the acceptance that everything in life is temporary. Alie gets a bit cheeky with the line “The end of the fucking world,” but she’s only saying what we are all thinking.

“Darts” comes back in slowly, almost like a lullaby when juxtaposed against the tracks that come before and after it. Then “Monstera” comes in wielding a whole different energy, a song Alie wrote about her childhood best friend – the first person she had musical dreams with – and how she grappled with the change of a big move – and a lifelong dream together. This track has a sense of urgency about it, a bit more grit, and also a sense of beautiful acknowledgment of those people who helped to set you on your trajectory. Alie took such a liking to the track that last fall’s tour (2023) was titled the “Monstera Tour.”

Sonically, “Like Flies” feels like a Tim Burton movie, especially when compared to its predecessors. There is almost an eery tone to the melody, cinematic and beautiful in its own right. Last track “End Scene” comes in like a brisk walk a the end of a daunting journey. The piano is the centerpiece of the track, the simplicity establishing a sense of peace – a firm ending to this whirlwind of emotions (and talent).

Upcoming Shows
3/29 – Seattle, WA – Easy Street Records (Album Release Celebration)
5/2 – Tacoma, WA – New Frontier Lounge
5/3 – Portland, OR – Alberta Street Pub
5/7 – Reno, NV – Cypress
5/8 – Eugene, OR – Sam Bond’s Garage
5/9 – Seattle, WA – The Crocodile (w/ Noah Gundersen & His Band)
5/11 – Santa Fe, NM – The Mystic (Alie solo)
5/16 – Everett, WA – Fisherman’s Village Music Fest 2024

they travel at night release inspired genre-bending release entropy

they travel at night release inspired genre-bending release entropy

On Friday, genre-bending duo They Travel at Night – comprised of Chuck Howard and Lou Scanlon – released their debut EP, a 5-track feat named Entropy. Veterans of the industry in their respective rights, Howard and Scanlon’s influence is wide-ranging, a fact that is evidenced by this release, if you weren’t already familiar.

Beginning with the first track “Go On,” you can identify the quirky and endearing ways they enhance their tracks. It begins synth-heavy – like, 80s realm synth-heavy – and blossoms into something that, toned down, just as easily belongs in a 90’s movie. Cymbal-led “Fare Thee Well” changes pace for a while for dramatic effect, and lands more in the “I may belong on one of The O.C. soundtracks” category.

“Moment” begins with a guitar riff worthy of an oughts indie/emo band. The electronic breakdowns at 1:42 and 2:42 are really fun, I’m not sure how anyone could get through this song without a smile on their face. “Into It” builds dramatically, a ballad-like track that could, in my humble opinion, easily find its way to a Broadway musical. Entropy lands on “Colors,” an instrumental track that feels celebratory and squared to welcome success. I feel privileged to welcome false spring with this release in my back pocket.

Check out They Travel at Night’s Entropy below, and let us know what you think over on Instagram and Facebook!