2019: the year thus far

As per my previous predictions, 2019 is already shaping up to be a great year for music. It’s also been a great year of concerts. I started interning at a concert booking agency so I’ve been able to go to more shows than I normally would. I also attended SXSW for the first time ever this year and that was an incredible experience. This year, I’ve seen some of my all time favorites, along with bands that I’ve just recently gotten into, and a few bands that I’ve seen before.  

BOYO isn’t slowing down anytime soon and has continually churned out new music since 2017. I even saw on an “Ask Me Anything” on BOYO’s Instagram stories that his manager told him that he simply couldn’t release all the songs that he’s written. BOYO played during the Biker Gang showcase at Spiderhouse during SXSW, and although his solo performance lacked in instruments on stage, his vocals and passion made up for it.

Despite the fact that Vacations released a full LP last year, they dropped their latest single “On Your Own”, this March. Featuring upbeat jangly guitars and mild synths, this track doesn’t diverge too far from their previous work. The Australian indie rockers were last up at the BIRP.fm SXSW showcase at The Parish on Sixth Street.

One of the very first indie groups that I got into was The Drums. After almost seven years of fandom, I finally got the opportunity to see the surfy indie pop turned experimental dark pop group at the Paper Tiger in San Antonio. They released their fifth album, Brutalism, in April during the middle of their North American tour. Although only nine tracks long, this album feels like it’s the most personal project that frontman Jonny Pierce has written and released to date. Check out this article from 2016 where he delves into some super personal aspects of his life.

Going back to 2019 in terms of music in general, Cage the Elephant and Reptaliens released impressive new albums. Club Kuru, The Black Keys, Tame Impala, and Cuco have all released promising singles preceding upcoming projects.

2014 Year In Review

2014 the year of the famous Oscar selfie, when Kim K became Kim Kardashian-West, the year “How I Met Your Mother” finally (and disappointingly) came to an end, and when Shia LaBeouf declared himself “Not Famous Anymore.” What a year. It was also an impressive time for indie music.

Homeshake performing at the Paper Tiger in 2018.

Several now well-known artists debuted their very first projects. Peter Sagar broke away from Mac Demarco to create his own music under the moniker Homeshake. Homeshake’s In the Shower came out in October. He creatively utilizes both high and low vocal pitches and a variety of guitar distortions leaving listeners guessing what they might hear next. The album opens with a deep voice saying, “Just, try to relax” over a saturated reverb guitar. This same sequence appears in the middle of the album opening up “Cash is Money,” but instead the voice says, “Oh no, no more, make it stop.” This was an excellent project to set him apart from his past work, while still appealing to fans of Demarco.

Speaking of Mac Demarco, the prince of indie rock released his third LP Salad Days in 2014 that’s one of his most well-liked projects to date. The jangly guitars throughout the album and chilled out vocals make this album relaxing to listen to. Young the Giant released their sophomore album, Mind Over Matter, that was more upbeat and rock driven than their 2011 breakout album. While Young the Giant’s career was just taking off in 2014, Bombay Bicycle Club’s long stint in music was winding down. They released So Long, See You Tomorrow in 2014 and then announced that they were going their separate ways. However, the group excited fans this year with the news that they’re back together!

The release of Sylvan Esso’s first album changed my perspective electronic pop. Sylvan Esso layers upbeat bass sequences, traditional club beats, and soft, yet powerful vocals. The songs mix both stripped-down and complex elements. To say this project was well-produced and well-thought out would be an understatement. Its influence on alt-pop can still be heard and felt in so many ways. Glass Animals’ moody and sensual, Zaba, and Shakey Graves’ fresh take on Americana, And the War Came, were also game changers.

Both new and well-established indie artists came out with singles that fans still sing along to. The most notable track from Alvvay’s first self-titled album has to be “Adult Diversion”. Lead singer, Molly Rankin, croons in the chorus while both surfy and psychedelic guitars dance together for the duration of the song. Spoon’s “Inside Out” proved that the classic indie band still had it. Its ethereal feel layered over a steady drum beat always draws me back to this track.

2016 Album Highlight: STRFKR

If STRFKR got one thing right about this album, it has to be the cover. The ethereal album cover by collage artist Mariano Peccinetti that displays a man painting dazzling galaxies perfectly sets the spacey mood that Being No One, Going Nowhere portrays. Although the Portland native group’s fourth album came out well over a year ago, I find myself coming back to it time and time again because just about every song is a banger. I will admit I was nervous to give this record a listen for the first time because I knew Miracle Mile would be a hard album to follow because of how strong of project it is. That album has to be one of my all time favorites. To say the least, my expectations for this album were pretty high.

If you like one song on the album, you’re bound to like them all because to be quite honest, they all kind of sound a like. That’s not a bad thing though! If you like really cohesive albums, this will be right up your alley because Being No One Going Nowhere is a 41 minute long psychedelic dance pop journey through space. I like how this album doesn’t have any “throw-away” tracks so to speak and how each song feels completely crafted and a necessary element to the album as a whole. With that being said, the album could be perceived as repetitive and lacking variety. The difficulty I sometimes have distinguishing between songs is unique to this Being No One, Going Nowhere in comparison to some of their past projects that feature pretty stand alone tracks.

Although this album is characteristic to STRFKR’s unique dance indie pop sound, the group is still managing to keep their sound fresh. I think their sound is continuing to evolve from their past work such as Miracle Mile and Jupiter. With the release of each new album, the group is growing more and more as musicians and experimenting with new elements in each album. In Being No One, Going Nowhere, lyrically (although admittedly as a listener, the lyrics weren’t my main focus for this album because at times it can be hard to understand what lead singer Joshua Hodges is saying), the songs explore self identity and our place in the world. The title of the album captures some of the themes that run throughout the project beautifully. 

Here I am with my boyfriend seeing STRFKR last July in Emo’s in Austin.

The album opens with “Tape Machine,” a track that begins with a repeating synth beat that’s met with a guitar melody that immediately draws listeners in and prepares them for the mood of the album. The album moves along with similar psychedelic synth and guitar melodies. The drawn out synth and thumping bass featured on the fourth song, “Something Ain’t Right” sounds right out of a pivotal scene in an eighties teen movie. It seems that this album begins more upbeat and progressively slows down and speeds up in each song. This can especially be seen in “Open Your Eyes” as it begins with a softer sound that steadily becomes more upbeat as it leads into the chorus and again swells back down to the slower tempo. So this album is 11 songs long with five beginning songs then the interlude “interspace” and then the five closing songs. I love this obvious breakdown of the album. Even the lack of capitalization marks the interlude cleverly titled “interspace” as something different. The one minute long track features an Alan Watts speech about individualism and our relationship to the galaxies over a funky synth melody. I like how this song breaks the album up almost as like a commercial break between the songs. It shows that it’s important to listen to Being No One, Going Nowhere in order, at least for the first time. 

Being No One, Going Nowhere is piece of art in itself as whole with each song telling a story and acting as a puzzle piece that contributes to and adds clarity to the album in its own way.

2013 Year In Review

2013 marked a turning point in the indie music scene and was a legendary year for indie pop and rock. So many notable bands released killer albums. Some album highlights include Miracle Mile by STRFKR, Evil Friends by Portugal. The Man, Turn Blue by The Black Keys, AM by Arctic Monkeys, and Heza by Generationals.

Going in order of release date I’ll begin with Miracle Mile. This album is crafted to perfection and beings with a bang with the opening track “While I’m Alive”. The guitars combined with STRFKR’s signature electric synths throughout the album carry the tracks along with their infectious grooves. One of my favorite guitar riffs on the project has to be the breakout guitar on “Fortune’s Fool”. When it’s met with the infectious bass line, that’s how I knew this song would be a bop. This song also drops the name of the album in its chorus. Several songs including “Malmo” and “Leave It All Behind” feature punchy and creative synth work. The bass lines on this project are not to be overlooked either especially on tracks like “Nite Rite” and “YAYAYA”.

Heza by Generationals marked a transition in their sound from jangly, raw sounding tracks featured on their previous projects to the introduction of synths and more creative rhythms and guitar tones on each song. Heza features their second most popular song, “Put a Light On” that is certainly is deserving of the hype.

The Blacks Keys haven’t released an album since 2013’s Turn Blue, but it’s certainly not a bad album to “end” on. Until the release of “Lo/High” that dropped in February, fans weren’t sure if the legendary duo would ever get back together. This album tunes in to more psychedelic influenced sounds and many of the tracks feature crazy guitar solos including the opening track, “Weight of Love” and “In Our Prime”. It also features “Fever”, one of the more popular Black Keys songs. My personal favorite is “10 Lovers” for the funky and infectious bass line.

There’s Gourley’s signature right on the shirt!

Evil Friends is my favorite album of all time hands down. To be honest, I don’t think Portugal the Man will ever be able to top this one. I love the story that is told through each song and the lyrics have an overall rebellious feel to them without being too outright about it– well maybe with the exception of “All the hip hop kids think we give a shit, well we don’t, we don’t, we don’t” on “Hip Hop Kids” and “You don’t get it, I’m just a creep in a t-shirt, jeans, I don’t fucking care,” on “Creep in a T-Shirt”. Quick backstory to this song– so I drew the lyrics to this song for my phone case and I actually met all the dudes of PTM after a show in Dallas back in 2017. Long story short, frontman John Gourley signed my drawing and he loved it. It was magical. After a few faster paced tracks, “Sea of Air” serves as a ballad for the album and “Waves” picks it right back up. This video of PTM performing “All Your Light” (from their 2011 album In the Mountain in the Cloud) and “Waves” at Red Rocks changed my life for the better.

AM by the Arctic Monkeys was an inescapable album from 2013. “Knees Socks”, “Do I Wanna Know”, and “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High”, were everywhere from commercials to several live performances including on Letterman and the Brit Awards. An honorable mention has to go The Comedown Machine by the Strokes. This is the last album that they have released to date (with exception of an EP in 2016). This album served as the last project that were contractually obligated the make with RCA. Some critics feel that the Strokes didn’t put much effort into this project and their hearts weren’t really into it. I would agree the album as whole isn’t too special. However it does feature one of my favorite Strokes songs, “Tap Out”.

Under the radar music journalist

Thomas Dunlap’s articles on KTSW’s blog

KTSW 89.9 is the official radio station at Texas State University and I have been an active member since 2017. KTSW’s blog covers a multitude of topics including news, sports, lifestyle, and of course, music. How could a college radio station’s blog not have a strong music presence? The music journalists at KTSW continually write creative content that goes way beyond standard album reviews. From quirky playlists, to discussing music in film and video games, the music journalists at KTSW find a way to put a spin on traditional music writing.

One journalist in particular always comes through with interesting and well-written articles. Thomas Dunlap is known for his combination of album reviews and interviews on KTSW’s blog. Dunlap reaches out to smaller indie artists via their social media and has overall been successful at securing insightful interviews. Not only is Dunlap interviewing artists that have little to no media coverage, but he also asks out-of-the-box questions that reflect that he did his research on the band beforehand. He even adds his own distinctive calligraphy on the cover image of the artist.

Some of the artists that Dunlap has interviewed have even re-posted his work. Hector Gachan gushed to Dunlap that he thought his article was better than his interview with Noisey of Vice. That’s quite a compliment! I always look forward to Dunlap’s quirky interviews and in depth album reviews. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram and definitely check out some of his work.

Artist Spotlight: The Black Keys

The Black Key’s 2014 album, Turn Blue

The classic soulful indie rockers, The Black Keys, just released a new single on March 8 after five years passing since the release of their ninth album, Turn Blue. The duo released “Lo/Hi” out of the blue without any promotion. Both singer and guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney have stayed busy during their Black Keys break. Auerbach produced Cage the Elephant’s Tell Me I’m Pretty, released another solo album, Waiting On A Song, and released several projects with The Arcs. Carney has also produced some albums during this time.

The track doesn’t diverge from The Black Keys’ classic blend of soulful blues and psychedelic rock. The signature rough, metallic guitar carries the song as Auerbach sings the chorus, “You get low, low like a valley, high, high like a bird in the sky” backed by gospel-like vocals. Fans are anxiously waiting for what The Black Keys will have in store this year. They are currently being more active on their social media accounts and have been teasing pictures of studio work and what appears to be a music video that might accompany the single.

The Black Keys have transformed modern rock in the 2000s. They sample and even cover past songs and morph them into their own. The duo celebrates blues rock in a way that no other modern indie rock group has quite mastered. Their earlier work had more rough around the edges feel to it and felt raw and real. Their first album, The Big Come Up, was recorded in Carney’s basement, but they eventually moved to a professional studio to record later records resulting in more polished records.

Their most successful record to date is Brothers without a doubt. Every single track perfectly transitions into the next and the album takes the listener on a nostalgic, longing journey of past relationships. This record features instant classics that quickly rose to the top of the charts including “Everlasting Light”, “Tighten Up”, and “Howlin’ For You”. The Black Keys have received some criticism for “selling out” by allowing their songs to be featured in countless commercials and movies, but in the age of music streaming, licensing along with touring and merch sales are primarily how bands make money.

2017 Year In Review

2017 brought us indie heads a certain kind of satisfaction that some hadn’t felt since the golden age of classic indie artists. Some of my personal favorites had finally returned to the scene after being MIA for a couple of years.

Some album highlights include: Portugal. the Man’s Woodstock, The Drums’ Abysmal Thoughts, Homeshake’s Fresh Air, and Mac Demarco’s This Old Dog. Portugal. the Man and The Drums hadn’t released anything new in while, leaving fans anxious for more. Homeshake and Demarco were holding true to their one year on, one year off pattern— following the pattern, Homeshake released a new album this year and I imagine Demarco will drop one sometime this Spring, but more on that later.

Interestingly enough, both Woodstock and Abysmal Thoughts dropped on June, 16 2017. I remember exactly where I was when they had finally been released, and I couldn’t decide which one to listen to first! Both Portugal and The Drums released strong singles leading up to the summer projects. I’m sure you couldn’t escape the familiar infectious bassline of “Feel It Still” through out 2017, whether it was blasting in a department store, on the radio, or in a commercial, “Feel It Still” was everywhere. The breakout track even landed the classic indie rock group a Grammy for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance.

I met the lead singer of Portugal. the Man, John Gourley, in Dallas at the Bomb Factory.

However upon listening to Woodstock, I was left thinking, “really that’s what y’all produced after your 4 year silence?” The project in general felt formulaic and over produced. It didn’t stand out against the clutter of radio alt pop-rock. I will say, however, Evil Friends was and still is such a solid and perfect album, it’s a hard act to follow. There were a few songs including “Number One”, “Noise Pollution”, and “So Young” that stood out among the others because they felt more thoughtful and true to Portugal’s sound.

There were also some surprising singles that dropped in 2017 that provided a promising taste of what was to come in 2018. MGMT dropped their dark synth pop track “Little Dark Age” in October and it quickly gained popularity. The album Little Dark Age finally put MGMT back on the scene after they released a few experimental albums that flopped in the early 2010s. Generationals also teased fans with a string of singles in 2017, but failed to follow up a full album. They ended 2018 with a single compilation project titled State Dogs that was comprised of both their 2017 and 2018 singles. I was disappointed the duo didn’t follow through with a full album.

A couple break out artists of 2017 include The Marias, Temporex, Wallows, and Club Kuru. It’s amazing to see the popularity these groups have gained in just two years and it is certainly well deserved.

2018 Year In Review

2018 was quite a year where I personally took on many challenges and was able to experience some very exciting things. I travelled to the west coast, landed my first internship, and above all listened to some killer new music. Indie artists didn’t come to play in 2018 and many bands stepped out of their usual format and began experimenting with their sound.

The most notable changes in sound come from Sports and Triathalon. I delve more into this subject on KTSW’s blog. Triathalon came out with a bang and complete change in sound with the release of their third EP, Online in February. They moved away from their easy going dreamy surf rock sound featured on Nothing Bothers Me and Lo-Tide to a chilled out r&b bedroom pop inspired sound. I had the privilege of interviewing the New York based group that you can check out here.

I saw Triathalon at Antone’s in Austin, TX this summer on their tour with the Maria’s.

I would argue March brought some of the most stand-out releases of the year including Paul Cherry’s Flavour, Michael Seyer’s Bad Bonez, The Voidz Virtue, and Club Kuru’s Ribbons to name a few. The genre of the year was definitely bedroom pop. Artists like Temporex, Vansire, Hot Flash Heat Wave, and Ruru all experimented with creating an intimate raw sound and all executed the dreamy DIY feel in different and surprising ways.

Although Virtue received mixed reviews, it was widely rated as mediocre, which I can’t disagree with. The album provided a few stand out tracks, but overall was a bit all of over the place and muddy. However, as a long time Strokes fan, it did satisfy my ache for Casablanca’s signature voice– for now. Word around the block is 2019 is supposedly the year the Strokes will finally emerge from their six year hiatus. All I can say is that I’ll believe it when I see it. Although many Strokes fans are aching for some new material, at least many of the members are still creating music including Albert Hammond, Jr. His solo project Francis Trouble dropped last year and was a solid effort.

My top three albums for 2018 include SALES’ Forever & Ever EP, Michael Seyer’s Bad Bonez and BOYO’s Programming. BOYO really knocked it out of the park with this one. The album is polished and cohesive and BOYO culminated the perfect blend of lazy guitar interlaced with entracing synthesizers throughout the record. It has a certain focus and precision that some of his past albums just didn’t meet.

I made a Spotify playlist highlighting my 2018 favorites you can stream here.

What this blog entails

A girl DJ sliding the sound board with headphones on.

I’ll start with an obvious statement that summarizes the essence of what this blog is about: music is always changing. Whether it’s my own personal music taste, or the sound of an artist, music is constantly on the move. Contrastingly, music is also always recycling itself, too. It’s funny looking back on covers of past hits once again gaining a lot of popularity, particularly among younger crowds and it’s even funnier when they don’t realize their new favorite jam isn’t an original song. Whether it’s literal reworking of chords or samples of other songs, musicians can sneakily steal from others. As Picasso once said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” The same sentiment surely applies to musicians.

But more on all of that later. My name is Caroline Janes, and I humbly will submit to you my opinions on music throughout the years, starting with 2018 and going backwards with each article. At some point we’ll delve into 2019, but that will have to come when there’s more ground to cover for this year. My expertise is in indie music, and therefore my focus will also be in this genre. It wasn’t until about the 8th grade that I first got into indie music, substituting out the top 40 pop and rap hits for something a little less formulaic. (Although I will say, I do have a middle school throwback playlist that’s still my guilty pleasure to listen to.) My involvement in music has grown since then.

It all started with the indie rock station on Pandora. This is where I got my first taste of bands that are surely now classic indie artists. Then came your standard indie concerts the first being Two Door Cinema Club, followed by Vampire Weekend, Young the Giant and many more. (Shout out to my dad for driving me and my rowdy friends two hours from my hometown to Dallas every time!) Now, here I am 8 years later, and my relationship with music has grown much deeper. I now work at KTSW, the Texas State University radio station, produce my own radio show, select the music that goes on air, edit music reviews, and intern at a concert booking agency. 8th grade Caroline would certainly be shocked and elated. She probably wouldn’t believe me. Hopefully I seem qualified enough to dive deeper into each year of indie music.

Shameless self promo: Listen to Times Like These every Monday 8-10 to get a deeper insight on my music taste on KTSW 89.9 or stream it here. Follow me and KTSW on twitter for the latest updates for the other side of radio.