Magic Omnibus | March 2015

Thankfully, the month in music was far less frustrating—but just as active and dynamic—as the city’s meteorological conditions.

 

  

The month of (S)march in St. Louis means riding the “go home weather, you’re drunk” roller coaster. It’s spring! Wait, it’s winter again! It’s snowing! Now I’m sitting on my deck in a t-shirt and driving around with my sun-roof open. Thunderstorms and a spot of hail? Sure, why not? Now I’m running the heater and wearing a coat a few days before April. Thankfully, the month in music was far less frustrating—but just as active and dynamic—as the city’s meteorological conditions, serving up a steady flow of sonic storm systems, resulting in a reservoir-filling plethora of engaging, notable albums and singles. Here’s the lowdown on some of them.

Tobias Jesso, Jr. | Goon (True Panther)

The improbably named Tobias Jesso, Jr. flies in the face of accepted standards of probability by being 110% sincere. Goon is a quiet but never sleepy, soulful slice of AM Gold – little more than voice, piano and acoustic guitar that evokes Valotte-era Julian Lennon and early, pre-radio-gloss & skeezy allegations Howie Day.

Whitehorse | Leave No Bridge Unburned (Six Shooter)

Get set for Whitehorse to suck you in and charm your pants right off! Canadian husband & wife duo Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland make sultry, noir rock—something along the lines of a less garage-y Black Keys crossed with the cadences of late ’50s/early ’60s soul and R&B, with bits of folk, modern rock and rollicking rootsy and country vibes thrown in. McClelland’s voice is arresting, reminiscent of Elizabeth & the Catapult’s Elizabeth Ziman, but with the smolder button firmly pressed. Impressively, the duo boast a fleshed-out, full-band sound despite employing no additional backing musicians, instead relying on creative setups to play multiple instruments at once, or to easily switch between them.

Courtney Barnett | Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (Milk!/Mom + Pop)

Courtney Barnett is one hell of a songwriter, quietly occupying the upper echelon of ones operating at the moment. She’s substance over flash, wringing meaning and great insight out of remarkable tales of micro moments and the mundane. That’s not to say “boring.” Read: action packed; small scale. It’s an approach that, coupled with her deadpan vocal style, means casual listeners could easily fail to grasp how insightful, witty and frequently deeply affecting her songs are.

Her 2013 release The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas was a remarkable mix of folk, garage rock (almost reminiscent of the fuzzy, buzzy, ramshackle indie pop of New Zealand’s venerable Flying Nun label) and lo-fi singer/songwriter. Sometimes I Sit and Think… sticks to that plan of attack, but feels even more refined, and continues to fascinate.

Tunes like “Depreston” and “Boxing Day Blues” occupy the affectingly personal, low-key, sparse, country-folk end of the spectrum, with “Pedestrian at Best” a, stonking, overdriven rocker representing and preserving her wryly funny, idiosyncratic allure. Bouncy, infectious opener “Elevator Operator” is somehow equal parts They Might Be Giants, mid-1990s Blur and The Kinks. “Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party” bathes a tale of navigating the divide between introverts and extroverts in wiry alt rock. “An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in New York)” embodies and exudes the exhausted alertness of jet lag and temporal / spatial displacement via a languid yet twitchy groove.

You can almost hear Barnett’s fine-toothed gears moving as she observes and describes—she’s one of those songwriters who sees the story in everything. In contrast to someone like, say, Springsteen, or Craig Finn, she sees the micro, the character sketches, the short stories, not the widescreen, romantic epic. Sometimes I Sit and Think… is already near the very top of my Album of the Year 2015 shortlist. If you’re not already hip to Ms. Barnett, get to it!

Quarterbacks | s/t (Team Love)

Self-described “twee punx” Quarterbacks cram a barrage of wordy emotion into rapid-fire punk songs. They’re not screwing around—their self-titled debut album clocks in at 19 songs, 22 minutes. Songwriter & singer Dean Engle pens and spits out frenetic, rambling, but observationally dense and poignant laments—songs that barely stop to take a breath between declarations of longing, confusion and ennui. Think a disarmingly lovesick Descendents. Quarterbacks have the weight of the world on their young shoulders, but also a fire in their bellies that allows them to stave off being completely crushed and to defiantly spit a few flames back out.

The Weather Station | “Way It Is, Way It Could Be” (Paradise of Bachelors)

These folky Torontonians, featuring a rotating cast of characters backing front woman Tamara Lindeman, boast forcefully gentle, cascading arrangements, suggesting a dream union of Peter Gabriel and Joni Mitchell. Their new full-length LP Loyalty is due out in May.

Public Service Broadcasting | The Race for Space (Test Card)

Public Service Broadcasting are an English duo who employ silly pseudonyms (J. Willgoose, Esq.; Wrigglesworth) and build electro-rock songs (with bits of funk and folk for good measure) around samples from old public information films, archival footage and propaganda material, in an attempt to “teach the lessons of the past through the music of the future.” Think of it as an after-hours dance-rock party in the NASA mission control room.

This is the first I’ve heard of them, but The Race for Space is their brand-new second album. While it’s an undeniable booty-shaker, it’s also frequently incredibly thoughtful and moving, with certain tracks, such as put-a-lump-in-your-throat “The Other Side,” soaring with the grandeur of an electro-prog M83. | Mike Rengel

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