Andrew Bird

Pop Addict: Andrew Bird’s Break It Yourself

Every other Thursday, Pop Addict presents infectious tunes from contemporary musicians across indie rock, pop, folk, electronica, and more.

Andrew Bird: Break it Yourself

Andrew Bird: Break It Yourself (Mom+Pop, 3/6/12)

Andrew Bird: “Give It Away”

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Album after album, few artists are able to maintain a distinct sound while pushing (and sometimes breaching) boundaries. Taking songwriting to new heights and depths while adhering to one’s own musical identity is something that doesn’t happen often enough. But Andrew Bird is one such artist. Ever since his breakout 2005 album, The Mysterious Production of Eggs, the former Squirrel Nut Zippers member has become an anomaly, melding together straightforward song-craft with whimsical idiosyncrasies.

Now the Chicago-based multi-instrumentalist has orchestrated a new album that is sonically arresting, even for those who have grown accustomed to Bird’s musical style and tendencies. Break It Yourself marries Bird’s more straightforward songwriting, featured prominently on his last few releases, with the progressive sounds of his 2010 instrumental release, Useless Creatures. The new album makes a home in the middle ground, and prospers for its entirety.


Pop Addict: Hospitality’s Hospitality

Every other Thursday, Pop Addict presents infectious tunes from contemporary musicians across indie rock, pop, folk, electronica, and more.

Hospitality: HospitalityHospitality: Hospitality (Merge, 1/31/12)

Hospitality: “Friends of Friends”

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When Brooklyn’s Hospitality surfaced in 2008 with a six-song EP produced by Karl Blau, there was, naturally, immediate blogosphere buzz surrounding the band. Its poppy, minimalist sensibility catered to the indie-pop avenues it was exploring. The songs were spirited, displaying immense capability and promise. With that potential and talent came a signing to Merge Records and the band’s proper debut LP (produced by Shane Stoneback), which revives several songs from the EP while adding a few more, just for good measure.

From the moment that the album starts, there is something very warm and welcoming about the arrangement and composition. Album opener “Eighth Avenue” starts with acoustic strumming and persistent, steady drumming, immediately calling to mind early Belle and Sebastian work. The song builds gradually, integrating keyboards, harmonies, feedback, and percussive ornamentation, but it never strays far from its sunny-day feel. It is a laid-back indie-pop treasure that is sure to give first-time listeners a reason to give the rest of the album a chance. And once that happens, you’re roped in for the duration of the record.

Pop Addict: Nada Surf’s The Stars are Indifferent to Astronomy

Every other Thursday, Pop Addict presents infectious tunes from contemporary musicians across indie rock, pop, folk, electronica, and more.

Nada Surf: The Stars are Indifferent to AstronomyNada Surf: The Stars are Indifferent to Astronomy (Barsuk, 1/24/12)

Nada Surf: “Waiting for Something”

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The first thing that people usually think of when they hear the words “Nada Surf” is the mid-’90s post-grunge gem “Popular.” The track seemed to encapsulate everything that alternative rock in the ’90s stood for into a three-minute radio hit: humor, irony, hooks, cheekiness, and distortion. (It also helped that MTV played the music video nonstop.) And the band deserved the, well, popularity. The song was clever and catchy as hell. But, as is the case with many bands of that era who still had good songs/albums besides their hit (see: Superdrag, Better Than Ezra), Nada Surf has spent the rest of its career trying to get as far away as possible from that song.

To belittle the entire career of Nada Surf to a mere three minutes of one hit in the ’90s is completely unfair, though. Even though the band has lived in the shadow of “Popular” for the majority of its career, Nada Surf has quietly and steadily been putting out an array of solid garage-rock/power-pop-infused records. The Proximity Effect, from 1999, still hinted at the humor that “Popular” touched upon, but the album showed natural growth, with lyrics revolving around more “adult” problems, like seeking out a therapist or the emotional bankruptcy of living too fast. The album’s lyrical honesty and vulnerability is on par with Weezer’s Pinkerton.

By the time Let Go rolled around in 2003, Nada Surf had completely detached itself from the snot-nosed teenage angst of its lone hit single. Instead, a matured, weathered, broken, and fixed Nada Surf was at the helm, endorsing the same power-pop sensibilities it had on previous records, but now with added layers of acoustics, synthesizers, harmonies, and deeper, more meaningful songwriting. The Weight Is A Gift (2005) and Lucky (2008) followed in a similar (though slightly more watered down) fashion.

Gruff Rhys

Pop Addict: Gruff Rhys’ Atheist Xmas EP

Gruff Rhys

Every other Thursday, Pop Addict presents infectious tunes from contemporary musicians across indie rock, pop, folk, electronica, and more.

Gruff Rhys: Atheist Xmas EP Gruff Rhys: Atheist Xmas EP (Wichita, 12/20/11)

Gruff Rhys: “Slashed Wrists This Christmas”

Around this time of year, before the reality and harshness of winter set in, December is usually a time of good cheer and holiday festiveness. And now, thanks to Gruff Rhys, atheists can enjoy the season too. The Super Furry Animals front-man has just released a new EP called Atheist Xmas — a three-song offering featuring hook-heavy, head-bobbing catchiness — that is sure to help get you through to the coldest days this winter (or at least a few minutes of them at a time).

And don’t worry — this one isn’t sung in Welsh.


Pop Addict: Phantogram’s Nightlife EP

Every other Thursday, Pop Addict presents infectious tunes from contemporary musicians across indie rock, pop, folk, electronica, and more.

Phantogram: NightlifePhantogram: Nightlife EP (Barsuk, 11/1/11)

Phantogram: “Don’t Move”

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In 2010, the electronic-pop duo Phantogram burst on the scene with its impressive debut offering, Eyelid Movies. The duo, comprised of Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel, brought a fresh perspective to the indie scene, showcasing an album that was both elusive and grounded at the same time — simultaneously experimental and catchy. It was so well received, in fact, that Carter and Barthel were able to quit their day jobs and tour relentlessly in support of the album. Alternating between vocal duties, Barthel and Carter concocted an assortment of beat-heavy drum loops, ornamental guitar work, bipolar synthesizers and samples, and two-headed harmonies. Phantogram was one of the best new acts of year. And so the question remained, as it does with every notable debut act: could they follow it up?

With the six-song Nightlife EP, Phantogram builds on what made Eyelid Movies such an achievement in saturated digital pop. Yet again harboring a swath of soundscapes and sonic concoctions, Phantogram has constructed a record that fleshes out its strengths. Between Carter’s guitar work, Barthel’s keyboard work, and both of their vocal and sampling duties, the duo has positioned itself as one of indie’s most beloved new entities.


Pop Addict: M83’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

Every Thursday, Pop Addict presents infectious tunes from contemporary musicians across indie rock, pop, folk, electronica, and more.

M83: Hurry Up, We're DreamingM83Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (Mute, 10/18/11)

M83: “Midnight City”

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We live in an increasingly digital age. In this new era, certain elements associated with music have taken a hit: packaging, album artwork, tracks strategically placed on side A or B of a record, the creative complexities that go into double albums — basically, anything that made putting out a record as much of an artistic statement as a musical one. M83, however, is bent on keeping that aesthetic alive.

Of course, in order to do this, Anthony Gonzalez, the front-man for the French electro-pop outfit, had to create an album that actually mattered. He had to make an album that would transcend genre and time period, one that would eclipse the mass amounts of other records released this year. He had to put something out that was over the top, epic, anthemic — and so M83 did just that.

Mr. Gnome

Pop Addict: Mr. Gnome’s Madness in Miniature

Every Thursday, Pop Addict presents infectious tunes from contemporary musicians across indie rock, pop, folk, electronica, and more.

Mr. Gnome: Madness in MiniatureMr. Gnome: Madness in Miniature (El Marko, 10/25/11)

Mr. Gnome: “Ate the Sun”

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Formed in 2005, Cleveland-based duo Mr. Gnome has been offering introspective, spooky indie rock ever since its inception. Even though the art-rock band is composed of just singer/guitarist Nicole Barille and drummer/pianist Sam Meister, Mr. Gnome finds a way to make a lot of noise. And thankfully for us, it’s noise worth hearing.

Though two-pieces are fairly common these days, Mr. Gnome has managed to stand out with the best of them. The band’s latest effort, Madness in Miniature, finds Barille and Meister confident, collected, and ready for the limelight, armed with a catalog of varied instrumentation and musical styles.

The album flexes its muscles frequently. Oscillating between raucously distorted guitars, atmospheric soundscapes, persistent drumming, and Barille’s full-on belt-outs and soft-spoken vocal layers, the body of work immediately calls to mind the best stuff by Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Kills, with hints of Queens of the Stone Age peppered throughout. And just a few tracks in, it becomes apparent: this is fright rock at its finest.

My Brightest Diamond

Pop Addict: My Brightest Diamond’s All Things Will Unwind

Every Thursday, Pop Addict presents infectious tunes from contemporary musicians across indie rock, pop, folk, electronica, and more.

My Brightest Diamond: All Things Will UnwindMy Brightest Diamond: All Things Will Unwind (Asthmatic Kitty, 10/18/11)

My Brightest Diamond: “Reaching Through to the Other Side”

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Detroit-based singer/songwriter Shara Worden has long made a career as an indie-pop mercenary. Over the past decade or so, she has lent her talents to Sufjan StevensIllinoisemakers, collaborated with The Decemberists, covered Radiohead for an OK Computer tribute album, appeared on numerous compilations (including her excellent cut on Dark Was the Night), and contributed to the chamber ensemble yMusic (which also includes Bon Iver, Antony & the Johnsons, the New York Philharmonic, and Rufus Wainwright).

Clearly, Worden has no problem keeping busy. But even in the midst of her many endeavors, Worden has found time for her indie-pop pet project, My Brightest Diamond, without ever skimping on musical quality or integrity.

Such is the case on All Things Will Unwind, My Brightest Diamond’s third effort on Asthmatic Kitty, as Worden’s talents are as focused and as strong as ever. Indeed, the most engaging aspect of My Brightest Diamond is undoubtedly Worden’s voice. With such grace and skill in tow, it’s no wonder that so many acts enlist Worden as a hired hand. Her voice is so pure, so strong yet delicate, so confident and dynamic, that there is no denying the presence of an immense talent. Swaying between sweet, soft-edged crooning (“She Does Not Brave the War”) to full-on, forceful belt-outs (the latter half of “Be Brave”), Worden knows exactly what she’s doing. The songs swell and sway, kept adrift — and often take flight — thanks to Worden’s cosmic vocal work.

Peter Wolf Crier

Pop Addict: Peter Wolf Crier’s Garden of Arms

Every Thursday, Pop Addict presents infectious tunes from contemporary musicians across indie rock, pop, folk, electronica, and more.

Peter Wolf Crier: Garden of ArmsPeter Wolf CrierGarden of Arms (Jagjaguwar, 9/6/11)

Peter Wolf Crier: “Settling It Off”

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There are enough two-pieces nowadays that people understand the formula can work without a full backing band — and work well. When Peter Wolf Crier, the two-man collaboration between Peter Pisano and Brian Moen, released alt-folk gem Inter-Be in 2010, it seemed to have a good handle on what it was doing. An acoustic-driven approach, sprinkled with sporadic percussion and piano, established Peter Wolf Crier as one of the year’s best-kept secrets.

But that was the problem; the band’s sound was so subdued that it often went unnoticed, and the band struggled to put its stamp on the indie-folk scene. Peter Wolf Crier ultimately had two options for its next release: create another Inter-Be-esque album and risk floundering again, or expand and experiment. Though it stands to reason that either direction may have proven fruitful, there’s no denying that Garden of Arms is a product of the second option.

Cymbals Eat Guitars

Pop Addict: Cymbals Eat Guitars’ Lenses Alien

Every Thursday, Pop Addict presents infectious tunes from contemporary musicians across indie rock, pop, folk, electronica, and more.

Cymbals Eat Guitars: Lenses AlienCymbals Eat GuitarsLenses Alien (Barsuk, 8/30/11)

Cymbals Eat Guitars: “Rifle Eyesight (Proper Name)”

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A couple of years ago, Staten Island-based Cymbals Eat Guitars released Why There Are Mountains, an arresting, noisy display of off-kilter rock songs mixed with a few hooks and left turns. For many listeners, the album came out of left field. Its raucous guitars, crashing drums, and frantic vocals made Cymbals Eat Guitars an instant sensation in the indie-music scene, and soon, it was one of the most respected bands — and one of the best surprises — of 2009.

Now, two years later, the band that’s often touted as being “on the rise” has returned with its second effort. Lenses Alien, the band’s first offering since signing to Barsuk, looks to establish the band as a staple in indie rock.

Lenses Alien picks up where Why There Are Mountains left off, and builds indispensably upon the recklessly nurtured garage rock that the band has seemed to perfect in its short career. Pinpointing the band’s sound is a tad difficult — the music has elements of the PixiesPavement, and Pinback — but it keeps in step with tried-and-true lo-fi methods. Indeed, with Lenses Alien, Cymbals Eat Guitars has added another chapter to the musical styling of its solid debut. With album opener “Rifle Eyesight (Proper Name)” clocking in at more than eight minutes, and riveting tracks like “Keep Me Waiting” and “Shorepoints,” the band seems intent on hitting listeners with the full force of its grunge-meets-pop capabilities.

Mister Heavenly

Pop Addict: Mister Heavenly’s Out of Love

Every Thursday, Pop Addict presents infectious tunes from contemporary musicians across indie rock, pop, folk, electronica, and more.

Mister Heavenly: Out of LoveMister HeavenlyOut of Love (Sub Pop, 8/16/11)

Mister Heavenly: “Bronx Sniper”

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Supergroups are usually a crapshoot. Sometimes they blossom into something outstanding (e.g., Wolf Parade), and other times they fall flat on their face (e.g., Audioslave). With so many ideas and creative juices flowing — as well as taking caution to not step on any toes of the other bands — collaborating can sometimes lead to strained and tolling music. So it’s with much caution that I began listening to Mister Heavenly, which features indie rockers Nick Thorburn (Islands, The Unicorns, Human Highway), Ryan Kattner (Man Man), and Joe Plummer (Modest Mouse, The Shins). But unlike so many side projects, which can serve as pedestals for glorified B-sides or a hodgepodge of directions that don’t always click, Mister Heavenly plays to its strengths, resulting in a fantastic album and listening experience.

After the first few tracks of Mister Heavenly’s debut, Out of Love, it becomes apparent that a collaboration of this caliber just makes sense. In fact, the songs fit so well together that it seems ridiculous that these three have never teamed up before. Thorburn has made a name for himself by being a part of quirky musical projects; Kattner has gained much attention for his band’s eccentric tendencies; and Plummer, as the drummer of Modest Mouse, has helped craft some of his band’s best songs with erratic beats and percussive versatility.

Little Dragon

Pop Addict: Little Dragon’s Ritual Union

Every Thursday, Pop Addict presents infectious tunes from contemporary musicians across indie rock, pop, folk, electronica, and more.

Little Dragon: Ritual UnionLittle Dragon: Ritual Union (Peacefrog, 7/26/11)

Little Dragon: “Ritual Union”

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In the early 2000s, music exported from Sweden was notorious for its rock-n-roll demeanor. With acts like The Hives, The Sounds, and The Caesars coming of age in the earlier part of the last decade, the Scandinavian country quickly became associated with fast, raucous, danceable, and sometimes absurd music. But in the last five years or so, a new sensibility has emerged from Sweden. More soft-spoken, musically inclined acts, like Jose Gonzales or The Tallest Man on Earth, have emerged, and with them, a new style has been established. Among this new wave of Swedish exports is the highly acclaimed mellow-wave act, Little Dragon.

With its debut in 2007, the band made a name for itself in its home country as a digital minimalist. Its 2009 effort, Machine Dreams, garnered a bit more attention, but it wasn’t until Little Dragon collaborated with Gorillaz on Plastic Beach that much of the indie scene started paying attention. And now, with Ritual Union, the band has managed to release its best effort yet.