The 50 Best Songs Written By Phoenix Bands in 2015, Part Two
A screenshot from the music video for .decker's "Patsy," one of the songs on this list.
Matty Steinkamp/Sundawg Media
This is part two of our best songs written by local artists this year. Find part one here.
Huckleberry - "Trouble Is Real"
"The Trouble Is Real" has a much more indie pop/rock feel than the heavily Americana vibe found on their debut. As with the standout song from Fine Highway ("Handle Me") there is a heavy nod to Harry Nilsson, which is simply perfection for my taste. The song is so laid back and easy on the soul that I can hardly stand it. It has an amazing hook for a song driven by a bar room style piano line. Everything here is a beautiful reflective drink on a summer afternoon, with an occupation on acute observations at the more mundane elements of modern life.
Bad Neighbors - "Life's No Cakewalk, But We'll Have A Slice"
Bad Neighbors have an amazing combination of manic, near-spoken word poetry, and an indie rock aesthetic that I just adore. "Life's No Cakewalk, But We'll Have A Slice" is a stunning debut, far more than I expected. It begins with a sample of the distress call from Apollo 13 to NASA, before the mesmerizing guitar work of Tim Allyn begins, Collin Fall's drums kick in, and Levi Hardee's bass underlines it all. It's nearly two minutes in when Martin Shaffer launches his verbal shotgun lyrical approach reminiscent of early records by The Hold Steady. Every second of this near-five-minute single is pure enjoyment.
Bittersweet Way - "Not Sad Tonight"
There has been much talk over the years that Jedediah Foster's voice is reminiscent of Morrissey, and a quick listen to any of The Bittersweet Way's songs reinforces this pretty well. In the new single "Not Sad Tonight" they actually reference Morrissey, which makes it all the more amusing. Truth be told Foster really goes all out with the Morrissey nod here and it is a great intro to a fantastic EP of songs that they decided to write in 15 minutes each. The delivery is mournful, but ultimately the message is positive. That's got to be a difficult thing to convey in under two minutes, but they've done it brilliantly.
Phantom Party - "Catholic School"
If you ever wondered what a surf band would sound like with Morrissey as their lead singer, you don't have to ponder this anymore. The answer is apparently Phantom Party. "Catholic School" is the lead off track from their debut EP Stellar and it's probably the best example of the quintessence of their sound. I get the sense that this band is very young, which is amazing since they admittedly feature introspective lyrics focusing on religion, death, and the future over a backdrop of driving surf guitar, crashing drum and a great bass groove. The song itself is about the trials and travails of being raised Catholic, and seemingly, how it really doesn't work out.
Lay-Luz - "Slick"
Lay-Luz have clearly listened to the best post-’65 albums by The Beach Boys, added some shoe(gaze) polish to the affair, have a clear idea on harmonies, know how to make intriguing arrangements, and generally present some fairly amazing music designed for a quintessential summer dream. I simply can't get enough of this track in any capacity. This is a pocket symphony that I am confident that Brian Wilson would simply adore. The layered vocals alone are simply stunning, it's almost too much for me to handle in all its gorgeous beauty.
W.A.S.H. - "Paint Can"
Whether you watch it once or a dozen times your mind will be altered and you will find yourself singing to yourself on the street, "Shake it like a paint can, shake it like a paint can, girlie you can do it, you can shake it like a paint can, shake it like a paint can, shake it like a paint can, put your ass into it, you can shake it like a paint can." Just wait until Season's rap kicks in and she says, "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't white girl wasted / lying if I said I couldn't white girl shake it". Apparently her paint can comes with suggestive instructions as well. That's when you are hooked and realize this is possibly the finest Phoenix dance song of the year.
Harrison Fjord - "People I Meet"
"People I Meet" is an unusual blend of synth pop, jazz, and sophisti-pop, reminiscent of the New Romantics and blue-eyed soul artists of the early ’80s in the UK. You expect it to almost spin out into Eurodisco, but they keep the reigns tight and what the present is a smart and swift pop song, with a certain sense of sophistication that is missing from much of the scene or the entire music world at this time. It's kind of startling to the ears at first for the very anachronistic reasons I've stated, but man, after a few listens it's pretty damned brilliant.
The Brave Optimistic - "Love In The Time Of Climate Change"
The most fascinating track on The Brave Optimistic's Oh, Odanata, for me, is "Love In The Time Of Climate Change" which starts like a solo bedroom demo on acoustic guitar, before exploding forty seconds in where it goes absolutely manic with vocal histrionics unlike any other and then softens to present a near Elvis Costello ballad delivery. It's brilliant every step of the way and one of the most exciting songs I've heard in a while because it's just so fucking weird and exciting. It has to be heard to be believed.
Ana Log - "Believe"
I've listened to their debut EP countless times and I keep coming back to "Believe," which I think not only shows off the range of Melody Michelle's voice best, but also the talents of the band in general. It's at once a sweet seductive number and a catchy-as-hell rocker, with mesmerizing interludes in between. The strength of the rocking chorus alone had me sold on this song immediately. The entire band makes this one of the best numbers on their debut EP and Michelle's voice is stunning (as per her usual).
Fu - "Sleazer"
"Sleazer" is one of the best songs released last summer, period. It's also a stunning highlight of their live sets and a fan favorite. And live, well, Jeremy wears a pig mask, Stowe wears a trench coat and a gas mask with a built in mic and Yod is Yod, the golden guitar god he's always been, but now singing his lungs out. I love the hell out of this song for too many reasons to list, but it rocks hard and it's catchy as hell. It appears they are working hard at bringing rock back to Phoenix and its most welcome. But that don't matter, 'cause I'm alright.
Sundressed- "Beck And Call"
"Beck And Call" is without any hyperbole, the best song Sundressed has released to date. I've mentioned it before, but this single furthers my belief that Sundressed has finally become the band I imagined they could be at the start. This is furiously paced pop punk at its finest, and it also happens to be the best recorded vocal performance of Trevor Hedges I've ever heard. He puts all of his heart into this and the results are impressive. The music is almost too good to concentrate on the lyrics, but it's a fairly scathing, caustic attack on a rather self-obsessed person without reservation.
PRO TEENS - "Control"
PRO TEENS seemed to start out, in their post-St. Ranger existence, with a pure power pop direction. Their recent recordings have suggested that they are veering into more psychedelic, dream pop territory these days. The song is simply beautiful in a dreamy, Summer lazy day sort of way and it lulls the mind and lures the soul with its shimmering, swaying guitar. This is cloud watching music, maybe it's perfect for release now when you could actually imagine laying on the grass outside watching the sky with this as your soundtrack and not being scorched to death.
Scattered Melodies - "Trying To Find Me"
I've listened to Modern Repair endlessly and every time "Trying To Find Me" comes on, I get goosebumps. Scattered Melodies is more of a concept than a band, and I find that "Trying To Find Me" is one of the best tracks to show off what they are capable of with Laura Hamlin on vocals, Sam Wiley (The Wiley Ones) delivering a fantastic rap, Montag on piano and members of the Phoenix Symphony. It's the closest thing to a pop song on an album of rock, alternative, reggae and indie sounds, which happens to be devastatingly catchy.
decker. - "Patsy"
Only Brandon Decker would be bold enough to write a sympathetic songs about Lee Harvey Oswald. The title track to their magnificent 2015 album is just that, but it's far more than that. The song isn't so much about Oswald, but it does use him as a patsy to express the results of an everyman driven to extreme desperation by the circumstances of his life. Whether those circumstances were chosen by him or designed for him is not the issue. This is one of the greatest reflections on a infamous persona brilliantly wrapped in allegory that I've ever heard.
Spiritual Warfare - "Tiger By The Tail"
While most of the Spiritual Warfare records are just Joel Marquard on his own, "Tiger By The Tail" features drums by none other than Greg Muller (What Laura Says) and backup vocals from the amazing Rodetta (Ellen Werner). Though he's using Bollywood themes and Indian instrumentation, the American Pop comes shining through like a bizarre variation on Mungo Jerry's "In The Summertime," somehow. There are a lot of treasures on these records, but this groove and the total kitschy vibe of this song steals the spotlight from the entire affair. I hope that these records by Spiritual Warfare are not the last that we hear from Marquard's unique pop aesthetic.
Rob Kroehler - "The Days Before The Feed"
On Rob Kroehler's first solo outing, the whole deal and it is a beautiful, dynamic tune that showcases his talent as a songwriter no matter what setting he applies it toward. Kroehler says of the recording that, " Of all the songs I've written in the past couple of years this one might be my favorite." It's not difficult to see why, the chorus is to die for and the first time he sings "But you start to feel your senses dull..." I feel like I'm falling through myself with joy. Be sure to check out The Beach Boys bridge that starts at 2:47 for something stunning.
Bryant Eugene Vazquez - "How To Go About It..."
On "How To Go About It..." Bryant Eugene Vazquez' voice reminds me of someone that I can't quite place, but it's got a hint of a Dylanesque patois. That's him playing nearly every instrument on the song, with the exception of the trumpet courtesy of Kelley Cosgrove. That's also him in the video, like six or seven of him —and the video, as well as the song, seems to be pulled right out that era where good music was discovered in quirky videos on television after midnight. The groove is goddamn addictive, I had listened to the album last May and revisiting it with the video it has become permanently lodged in my head.
New Chums - "Come On, Come On"
This song just drives me completely crazy, I'll just throw that out there right now. I've been carrying this around for a couple weeks and it's the kind of song I have to listen to three or four times in a row to get it out of my head. It is very nearly the definition of a power pop song. It clocks in at just over three minutes, has a raving guitar, a great rhythm section, and the lead vocalist delivers some of the best hooks I've heard in a long time. The stuttered lyrics sung by Seth Boyack are what absolutely make the song for me.
Mr. Mudd & Mr. Gold - "Killing Floor"
"Killing Floor" is a perfect introduction to the sound of Mr. Mudd & Mr. Gold. It's simple, just under three minutes and you can imagine it being performed on a front porch somewhere in Appalachia with jugs of moonshine being passed around, while everyone dances barefoot wearing faded, stained overalls, sweating buckets in the humid backwoods. At least that's what comes to mind when I hear it. It's a refreshing whirlwind delivery of some rootsy as hell music that goes easy on your ears and best listened to with a grin above your chin.
Good Friends Great Enemies - "Hot Sea Men"
Don't be dissuaded from the bawdy title for "Hot Sea Men", there is a lot of word play with the titles on their album and this song is one of the best in the bunch. It's also something a song that captures the heart of the entire affair. It's a super upbeat fun number, that gives you a slightly woozy feeling like your actually aboard a ship rocking back and forth. I'm not sure how they quite achieve that, but it's just a damn fine groove that shows off all of their talents in spades.
Sweetbleeders - "Someway"
Sweetbleeders have been making some of the most engaging music in Phoenix for the last sixteen years and they've just released one of the finest albums of the year with We Were Never Here. There are several songs that are single worthy, but "Someway" just stands out above all else in that regard. It is easily one of my favorite songs of the year, because of how it all works together, with little accents like the soft muted intro, the background organ or the tambourine and sleigh bells. Part Americana, part indie pop, part Beach Boys and all brilliant, I haven't been able to stop listening to it since it came out.
Bear Ghost - "Necromancin' Dancin'"
This song is everything I love about Bear Ghost in just under four minutes. It is steeped deeply in the best that prog rock could offer all at a breakneck punked up pace, with a theatrical presentation that makes the band sound damn near possessed. I suppose that's an appropriate delivery in consideration of the title and the lyrical topic. I have to say that it was pointed out to me recently that the Phoenix music scene was missing a sense of "fun" and I could absolutely understand that perception.
Japhy's Descent - "Bite Your Lip"
"Bite Your Lip" has everything, from a great bass groove from Brian, pounding drums by James, gritty guitar by Martin and some of Travis' finest vocals to date. The entire song has this prowling, growling swagger that immediately captures your mind and your body. It's what rock'n'roll is supposed to be about, sexy, dangerous and seductive, you can almost imagine an over the top 70s rock performance to accompany it, fireworks and all. I'm not one to usually enjoy the obligatory guitar solo, but I have to hand it to Martin that he delivers a great one that I actually dig.
Snake! Snake! Snakes! - "Dead N Dumb"
"Dead N Dumb" is the first sneak peek at their Snake! Snake! Snakes'! new album — it's fast, furious and well under two minutes long. It's kind of the perfect teaser of what's to come. The guitars squelch and race at a breakneck speed, Jonathan Messenger's vocals come on nearly as punk as they do indie rock (think an angrier Black Rebel Motorcycle Club), while the rhythm section of Christopher Sanchez on bass and David Cooper on drums power the whole damn thing like a battery on overload. It's spectacular and all too brief.
Sunday At Noon - "Maybe I'll Regret It"
"Maybe I'll Regret It" is Sunday At Noon's first single and video all in one and it's a hell of a calling card to the world. Everyone is pulling their own weight here and this is just catchy as hell, high energy rock. The entire band exudes youthful energy, but the thing that really gets me is Jack's vocals. I have been trying to come up with a way to describe them, they seem somewhat normal garage band vox to start, but as soon as he hits the chorus it's a completely different beast and it's that brilliant switch that hooks my ear every damn time.
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