This top ten list includes recent releases I’ve been digging lately. Each one can be streamed in full using the links in the text below. Enjoy!
At Sea – “Burning in His Skin” digital single (At Sea)
This Brooklyn group, led by singer Jason Brody, has been relatively quiet since their eponymous 4-song debut EP in 2009. But armed with a new rhythm section, the (now) trio is set to release their first full-length A New Machine in September. This 2-song digital single (the last of three such singles released in 2011; see also “Something in the Way” and “Everything Looks Better in the Dark,” on their Bandcamp page) features measured yet vibrant arrangements, topped off with Brody’s impassioned, expressive croon. I’m looking forward to the album!
Baby Grand – Arts & Leisure (Test Pattern)
Sacramento, CA’s pure-pop, ultra-catchy Baby Grand have never disappointed, and their first three releases (2002’s Spectrum, 2007’s Coming True mini-LP, and 2008’s Lights Are Getting Low EP) still get regular airplay at this writer’s household. Through a few lineup changes, they’ve continually refined and perfected their sound, and this swansong final LP is their best. All 12 tunes feature lush arrangements and buoyant playing, and best of all, Gerri White’s soft, sweet, and sighing voice, which sounds like she’s whispering every line in your ear. Their new band, Arts & Leisure, will feature 3/4 Baby Grand members, plus new co-singer/writer Becky Cale alongside White, so it looks like their run of divine music will continue unabated.
Glass Daffodil – “Aquamarine,” “Fortune Favors,” “Hall of Gems” (Glass Daffodil)
Glass Daffodil is a solo project from Chapel Hill, NC’s Amanda Lindsay, whose two untitled EPs leading ‘60s-inspired sextet Violet Vector & The Lovely Lovelies I enjoyed. On these three appetizing tunes (released in 2011 but apparently portending a full-length), she’s joined by Mitch Easter, who records, mixes, and plays guitar, bass, and drums. GD’s psychedelic/girl-group sound features an abundance of swirling organ, harpischord, and Chamberlin (which Lindsay played while backing up Easter at NYC’s Rock Shop in early 2011). As icing on the cake, Lindsay tops everything off with her alluring, Emily Haines-like vocals.
glowfriends – All Things Made New (Jam)
Beginning as brother/sister singing duo Mark Andrew Morris and April (now) Zimont in 2000, this Kalamazoo, MI group has now morphed into a solid six-piece – consisting of three married couples. On this sixth album, they’ve considerably thickened their sound, and their beguiling, intricately-layered pop tunes now sport a newfangled, knife-edged kick (especially on “Hide-A-Bed,” “It’s Done,” and the Death Cab-like “Explain Away”). Plus, as I discovered at their NYC show at Arlene’s Grocery last March, they’re also a superb live band. Even after five months, I can’t stop listening to this!
Landing – “Heart Finds the Beat” (Geographic North)
In my last Top-10 list, my recent discovery of Paper’s 2007 LP As As (a side project by Connecticut dreampop duo Landing) prompted me to wonder what married leaders Aaron and Adrienne Snow had been up to since. Turns out they were just getting ready to release a new Landing self-titled album, their first since 2005’s Brocade! I haven’t heard it yet, but this hypnotic, brain-tickling first single, sweetened by Adrienne’s seductive coo, is whetting my appetite.
Jeff Litman – Outside (Jeff Litman)
I hadn’t heard this new sophomore LP by Minneapolis-born, NYC-based, classical/jazz student turned power-popper Litman when I saw him play most of it live last May, but I’ve been digging it as much as his 2009 debut Postscript. In fact, the production and playing often hits harder, especially on rocking tracks like “Runaway,” “Girl Down I95,” and “Just Another Dream.” But the songs are no less melodic or catchy, and the title track even features Jellyfish’s Roger Joseph Manning, Jr. on keyboards and vocals.
Charles Ramsey – Love Don’t Need to Feel So Foreign EP (Charles Ramsey)
I picked up this EP from NYC-by-way-of-Philly (he moved in June 2011) songsmith Ramsey after he performed all five tunes with his full band at Manhattan’s Living Room in May. It’s a follow-up to his mellifluous 2009 debut LP Good Morning & Good Night, and it again shows off his keen melodic sense and lovingly-crafted pop. Each full-bodied composition evokes a different feel; see the country-flecked “Architects in Love,” the Beatles-esque “Carmen,” or the melancholy “On Your Own Time,” to name the first three. It’s very nice!
Scale Model – Scale Model EP (Scale Model)
I enjoyed this Nashville-by-way-of-Chicago group’s 2005 LP Twilight Dim, but they’ve gotten better. Featuring Megan Rox’s terrific voice, their guitar-driven music tended to meander and roam more back then. They’ve since added bright new wave-like synths, and tightened their songwriting. Best, Rox’s more self-assured vocals have become a revelation. It’s not just that her singing is so delectable and angelic on this brand new EP, but on songs like the wondrous “Ground Beneath My Feet” (and the great “Set Me Free,” from their also-excellent 2010 Set Me Free E.P.), her delivery and words sound inspiring. And on closing tracks “Mindreader” and “Impression,” her voice soars. What a lovely record!
Vagina Panther – Judge EP (Aqualamb)
As their moniker makes clear, this hard-rocking Brooklyn quartet are no mere pussy cats. I relished their eponymous 2010 debut LP, falling prey to their “explosive, yet supremely melodic attack,” and this follow-up 5-songer shows no drop-off in intensity. On “French” and “Fingers,” their propulsive, jet engine-like guitars are set to stun, and Dead June’s tough, take-no-prisoners snarl still startles (her voice even displays a little Breeders-like prettiness on “Cheeseburger”). The fact that I have not yet seen these guys play live is a crime I need to rectify soon.
Young Unknowns – “Target Practice” (Young Unknowns)
This Brooklyn foursome is led by gossamer-voiced Meredith Meyer, whose last LP It’s Spooky In Here was made when she was living in L.A. But her new band backs up her haunting trill with a more dark and foreboding, ‘90’s goth-tinged thump, and producer Bill Racine again provides church-echo ambience. This single is a prelude to an upcoming EP, and I can’t wait to hear more.