Pinegrove showed up in my suggested videos on Youtube around the middle of the summer, and they’ve kept me impressed ever since. The particular video was their appearance on Chicago’s own Audiotree live music session, where the band managed to combine raw rock passion with twangy slide guitars, and tongue-twister vocal riffs with chilled out, spacey layering. Pinegrove’s music is surprising: their arrangements are dense and beg the listener to hear the detailed placing of riffs and harmonies. Pinegrove’s poetic lyrics make listening harder a joy. The first lyrics on their 2016 LP Cardinal are “Walking outside labyrinthine/Over cracks along under the trees/I know this town grounded in a compass/Cardinal landed in the dogwood.” The specific nuances are caliber of an expert. Songwriter and front-man Evan Stephens Hall crafts beautifully written stories inside of each song and will delight your eardrums after each stanza.
Standout Tracks: Cadmium, Size of the Moon
James Vincent McMorrow
The Irish songwriter James Vincent McMorrow has been on my listening queue for years. His 2010 debut album Early In The Morning is a soft indie folk adventure. The traditional folk instrumentation gels with uplifting yet somber falsetto vocals. The contrast between Early In The Morning and 2016’s We Move is stark and surprising. In 2014, McMorrow ditched some acoustic instruments for an 808 drum machine and keyboards, and this year’s recent release takes that a step further. Thanks to Toronto producer Nineteen85, We Move is JVM’s most electronic to date. McMorrow’s soulful voice narrates themes of mental illness and disparity, yet the instrumentation and mid to high-tempo arrangements would tell you otherwise. The tracks on We Move are deeply addicting, and echo 80’s dance records in their groove. On Last Story, the subtle electric piano sits on top of a heavy-handed hip-hop drum beat, and finally gives way to a power-ballad chorus, complete with a huge, reverbed snare drum, and distorted guitar. It takes a very talented artist to switch genres as effortlessly as James Vincent McMorrow.
Standout Tracks: I Lie Awake Every Night, Post Tropical
This Ontario band knows exactly how to set a mood. According to their Bandcamp page, Homeshake is comprised of “Peter and friends”, as in Peter Sagar, former guitar player for indie-rock champion Mac DeMarco. On 2014’s In The Shower, Sagar applied twitchy, amateur drums and groovy bass lines with guitar hooks on guitar hooks. His bright, minimal arrangements are complimented by pitch effects and narrative elements which craft the perfect slacker rock album. Homeshake took a turn in 2016 with their second LP, Midnight Snack. Ditching live drums and most electric guitar, Peter Sagar’s dive into electronic production is hypnotizing. In fact, the entire record emits the feeling of hypnagogia, that is, the transitional phase from wakefulness to sleep. Lazily played maracas, deep drum machine grooves, wide synth chords, and precisely dizzying guitar melodies dominate Midnight Snack’s 12 tracks. Songs like Under the Sheets and Give It to Me are expertly crafted, skipping beats and distorting vocal lines to perfection.
Standout Tracks: Faded, Call Me Up