Mitchell Hillman listens to more local music than just about anyone in the Valley. He presents his picks for best new music in his column, Right Hear, Right Now.
This list is arranged chronologically based on release. This list was pulled from over 200 songs from this year and largely ended up being the list of songs that I could sing off the top of my head. Read part two here.
The Lonesome Wilderness - "Cigarettes"
The tone and tunings of the guitars (there are three of them) seem to breathe Sonoran dust. The vocals are delivered with a brilliant whiskey rawness, while the rhythm section just ties it up in a nice little rawhide bow. There is also whistling — pretty amazing whistling actually — and I think that's something that's truly missing from a lot of modern music. In fact it was the whistling that first drew my attention to the song and made it stand out in their set.
The Hourglass Cats - "Been Thinkin'"
The Hourglass Cats are known for the fine blend of reggae, ska, and rock, which is why to me their brand new single "Been Thinkin'" is such a shock. There is no hint of ska or reggae on this track, sure there is still sax and trombone, but this is just pure rock — garage rock, in fact. It's impressive actually to see them branch out like this — they've always been able to rock, but it's always been a fusion with something else and never this straight, searing, and pure.
The Wiley Ones - "What I Am"
The one nice thing about The Wiley Ones is that they continually present an ever-positive vibe. With the refrain "What I am is love, your love is what I am" the vibe radiates everywhere through the song. On "What I Am," one of the finest elements is the jazzy sax throughout the entire thing courtesy of Phelan Parker. The entire song is a fantastic groove from beginning to end, whether it's Sam Wiley's rap and guitar line, Jay Nottingham's amazing bass or Josh Montag's majestic drumming. It's a fairly unusual tune for The Wiley Ones, even employing a great piano line.
MRCH - "Validation"
MRCH (pronounced March) is a side project of Mickey, Jess,e and Erin of The Prowling Kind. Mickey has never sounded more superb with her dream pop breathy vocals on this track, something she visited only occasionally with TPK. Meanwhile, Jesse holds down drums, and Erin is all over the keyboard magic. This song is, however, so catchy, that I can't stand it — it's serious head-bobbing music in no uncertain terms. If the chorus itself doesn't hold you hostage, I'm not sure what will.
No Volcano - "Tribute"
Just listen to the dizzying, swooning guitar — it will practically make you drunk if you focus on it enough, while the hook is catchy as hell and the drums and bass pound insanely behind Jim Andreas' frenetic vocal delivery. Nearly every song on their debut album follows a similar formula, but still "Tribute" is the signature tune to these ears, the one that will reel you in with no problem. It's a perfect construction of the sounds the band loves to hear, rethought and reinvented to match their own delivery, and the resulting product is intoxicating in no uncertain terms.
Paper Foxes - "Bologna Pantalones"
The ridiculously titled debut single from Paper Foxes is no laughing matter. "Bologna Pantalones" is simply a stellar, cathartic exercise in vitriol that totally presents itself as a calling card to the world. It is one of the most exciting singles I have heard in a while. Their energy is undeniable and I suspect that they will be hard to miss as their popularity grows. My only regret is that I held off too long in seeing them live, but somehow I think they are just getting to the good part.
Emby Alexander - "Behaves Like Beehives"
These guys are on a string of singles that just can't be beat, and every single EP and album they release is beyond solid. This is no different. It's manic and dizzying, and every single second of it is glorious. Emby Alexander is probably fitting into my top five local bands right now, because they are not resting on their laurels; they are continually issuing exciting, intellectually engaging music that is as catchy as it is quirky, as weird as it is wonderful.
Jared & The Mill - "Hold On"
The song is simply a wonderful reflection of the bands time on the road it seems as they roll through the great states of an America that almost seems mythical at this point. It may be their best song released to date and it is certainly one of their most sentimental. It is a song of deep reflection and musically it is definitely their best composition. I have little words about it, not because of any detriment, but because it's so damn good it gives me chills. You can feel the long road calling them home and that road will soon calling them on yet another cross-country tour.
Harper and The Moths - "Nighttime Tremors"
The first single from Harper and The Moths of this year was "Nighttime Terrors," which showcases the entire band in fine form but truly displays the amazing range of Harper Lines' fantastic pipes. This guy can sing, whether he is channeling early Bee Gees records with a wild falsetto or bringing it down to a seductive tone for the bridge. The song also has this amazing fantastic indie pop groove that is immediately arresting in a very catchy, hook-heavy way. It's also sexier than hell.
Darkness Dear Boy - "June"
"June" captures the essence of Darkness Dear Boy's sound — upbeat, funky and fun. It has really great ska-influenced sound while showing off the talents of everyone in the trio. The studio recording really captures the feeling of the energy in their live set and that's not something every band can achieve, but DDB has done it with this single and everyone that will follow from this years album. Also, the video is great and I have to ask these guys how they arranged for so many VW Buses at one time. It's just a great time in all capacities.
The Senators - "Hummingbird"
The Senators are a fantastic indie folk outfit with a gilded pop edge, a touch of rock sensibility, and clearly an ear for multilayered compositions involving fascinating harmonies and beautiful instrumentation. "Hummingbird" is something that just makes me smile every time I spin it, and I've listened to it more times than I can count. Genuinely smile, because everything about it feels good, whether it's the horns, the harmonies, the upbeat pace or the fantastic vocals, it's just a wonderful spring breeze for your ears.
Small Leaks Sink Ships - "Snowball Fight Attack Formation"
Small Leaks Sink Ships happen to be some of the most talented bands this town has ever produced — whether it their quirky style or complicated compositions, they coordinate their songs and albums like indie rock pocket symphonies. When Face Yourself and Remove Your Sandals was released last spring, this was the standout track.. Mainly, because it shows them in all of their glory, at the height of their powers. First of all, there is that crazy piano line that is infectious as all hell, then there is the intricate percussive sorcery, add to that the harmonies, the perfect bassline and eventually, blazing guitar.
Party Gardens - "What We're Made Of"
"What We're Made Of" is clearly Paul Waxman's (Dear and the Headlights) masterpiece on Party Gardens' Moon EP and shines brilliantly as something of a centerpiece for the entire affair. I have always found his vocals/lyricism to have an Elvis Costello vibe to them, and it's really apparent here. It's not an exact match and the music behind it is simply exquisite, especially the guitar and bass lines going on. Still, I have a feeling that Costello would love this and want to cover it.
Strange Lot - "Into the Night"
This is a fantastic psychedelic dance number that harks back to mid-’60s and the Swinging London era of music. Part garage rock, part psychedelic romp, I love everything about this track, whether it is the amazing, raging and swooning guitars or the fantastic rhythm groove going on between the drums and bass — it's just stunning, the reverb-laden vocals are fantastic and the whole thing combines into a wondrous pastiche that is completely danceable. If I could design music perfectly made for my own personal tastes, this is pretty much what it would sound like.
Desert Beats - "Nothing Without You"
There is something about this song that is thoroughly soaked in the Sonoran desert and sagebrush imaginings. I can't describe it much better than that, but you can feel it in the guitar every step of the way. Dempsey has a fascinating voice that recalls the early creative vox of Kings of Leon on their first EP. This song is so desert rock you can feel the heat coming off of it. What's more, the video is fantastic and only serves to underscore this sensibility. Completely shot on 8mm film with a Super 8 camera, it is an instant classic.
Celebration Guns - "The Volunteer"
Every time I see Celebration Guns, it seems the standout track is "The Volunteer," the new single from their forthcoming EP, The Me That Used to Be. The intro with the chimes/bells kills me every time. In the years since their formation Timothy O'Brien has become one of my favorite drummers in town, while the quirky vocals of Justin Weir, along with his guitar duel with Chris Blanco and bass thumping by Ryan Miller, just constantly make me think that this is what authentic indie rock sounds like. This recording trumps all their previous efforts and it should leave you eagerly anticipating the release of the EP this Spring.
CooBee Coo - "Grin On My Face"
The first thing that must be said about this song is that it is in no way representative of any other song found on CooBee Coo's new album, Liven Up. Nevertheless, it is my favorite song from that album for that exact reason. Also, the style, taken straight out of a 1940s-1950s musical that would have featured Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire or a revivalist movie from the ’70s starring the same entertainers. It is so anachronistic that it stands out like a sore thumb amid an already completely brilliant album. Still, I'm a sucker for the retro keys and the lilting orchestrations.
Motobunny - "Let's Go Out"
“Let’s Go Out" is the obvious choice for a single and if “Motobunny” had not been their theme song, this would have been the obvious choice to be the first. The entire album is fantastic, but amid the sea of singles, this one does indeed rise to the top. The video is a fairly humorous romp as Violet and RoXy cruise L.A. at night, while Death Ray (Michael Johnny Walker in a bunny suit) and Bronto cruise the town on foot. While the gals seem to be having fun in the car, the boys don’t seem to be having a great time of it. It’s a fun time and a great song.
Le Zets - "Favor for a Favor"
The lead singer of Le Zets, Margo Swann is none other than the 17-year-old prodigy daughter of Nicole Laurenne of The Love Me Nots/Motobunny/Zero Zero fame. Her vocal similarity to her mother is somewhat daunting as is her fierce rock 'n' roll delivery, especially on the opening track of their debut album Deadweight. "Favor for a Favor" has a fantastic, yet eerily familiar, bluesy guitar line that is delivered by L.A.'s Richard Romero. Together, this duo, accompanied by their producer Bob Hoag on drums, deliver some crunchy and stunning garage rock in fine style — and this song literally is just the tip of the iceberg.
Luna Aura - "Dancing With Your Ghost"
"Dancing With Your Ghost" was written in remembrance of Luna Aura's baby brother, who unexpectedly passed earlier this year. Instead of a mournful tune, it's downright dreamy and uplifting in its vocal delivery especially. The single doles out more of her unique "Cosmic Dream Pop Electronica" in much the same vein found on her debut, but she is definitely polishing this style, honing her danceable craft a bit more this time around. With this sound intact I can see Luna swiftly swept into the higher pop echelon and finding commercial success.
Sean Mullaney - "Get Mine"
This has all the staples of a classic rock song that hails from the 1970s, brilliant vocal gymnastics, searing guitar, and a fantastic rhythm section. The truly fantastic element is when, halfway through the song, the female backup singers come in and turn this song into a complete rock 'n' roll fantasy world. It's exciting to find a sound like this in town and to hear someone pull it off with a flawless execution. Seriously, put on your headphones, sit back in a bean bag chair, and rock out to three-and-a-half minutes of solid rock 'n' roll delight.
Red Tank! - "Sovereignty"
This is great punk rock. Overall, it's pretty great and something to listen to as a cathartic release when you want to bash in your co-worker's brains with a baseball bat. Somehow this song will soothe your nerves. I'm not sure how it works, but it does. This particular track is delivered at a brilliant breakneck speed with no apology. There is a lovely, surprising bridge with sleigh bells and all, which just proves that these awesome punks also are pretty great musicians. Fantastic song, even better album.
There Is Danger - "Unless"
While the song "Youth" was the lead single for their new Gold Mine EP, I keep coming back to "Unless." Days after There Is Danger's release show, this song was running through my mind. It's got a hidden hook that sticks to whatever part of the brain that clings to such things. This is a much more understated tune that simply goes down easy and soothes the soul. There is an inherent cocktail sensibility about it that lends itself to a sense of automatic inebriation, if for no other reason than that it is so goddamn dreamy.
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Twin Ponies - "Merciless and Masculine"
"Merciless and Masculine" is the first single from the Friendly Pet Mass Graves EP, and it gives you a solid idea of the direction that Twin Ponies are heading. Frankly, their music is getting more complicated, more fascinating, and compositionally stronger. They may well be approaching territory that fills in the enormous gaps left in the local music scene by The Constellation Branch and Small Leaks Sink Ships. Their shows are just as mesmerizing, and I would encourage you to catch them every chance you get. Just listen to that guitar line and fall in love with the intricacies.
Fairy Bones - "Banshee"
“Banshee” is two minutes of furious pounding madness, on which Matthew Foos blows my mind completely. Robert Ciuca’s guitar is just as impressive within the whirling chaos of the manic number. Also, because of this track, I could totally see Chelsey Louise spending a spare night or two fronting a metal band, but keeping it a complete secret. The entire band completely rocks it and it’s been one of my favorite songs in their canon since it first appeared. The video is a stunning showcase for the band itself in all their glorious weirdness: Chelsea is as alluring as ever, the Foos brothers look spectacular, and Robert looks insane.