Right Hear, Right Now

Five Songs From Phoenix Artists You Should Hear

Mitchell Hillman listens to more local music than just about anyone in the Valley. He presents his picks for best new local music in his column, Right Hear, Right Now.

Sydney Sprague - "Uncomfortable"
Sydney Sprague has been making magic with her music for nearly a decade in the Valley. "Uncomfortable" is her second single this year from her forthcoming album, Dark Cloud, and it follows fairly quickly on the heels of "Keep You Close." It's a beautiful acoustic tune, with little more than her immaculate voice and her guitar to start, and it could stay that way and be perfectly fine, but the band does kick it at the one-minute mark for some extra depth and excitement in sound. Sprague's vocals are akin to comfort food for the soul, as are most of her arrangements; she has an ability in her vulnerability and gentleness to evoke a truly peaceful, easy feeling. It's about awkward love, and for that, it's all the more charming. It's a wonderfully romantic song, steeped in summer sunshine and reflections of heart. Here, her voice is quite close to Stevie Nicks at her prime, but without the edge: a gentle, angelic softness is found instead. This in combination with the first single should put the anticipation for Dark Cloud immediately on your radar for what is sure to be another amazing record from one of Arizona's finest voices.

SURF - "New Ocean"
You have to hand it to Aaron Surf Tijerina: the man is both prolific and ambitious. He is the visionary behind SURF, and on October 1, SURF will release its third full-length album of the year. The only other local artist I've seen do that is Joel Marquard (Gospel Claws, Dear and The Headlights, Samuel L Cool J) when he put out three back-to-back Spiritual Warfare albums last year. SURF released Islands last April, then in May the all-instrumental What You Wanted, and after a summer full of random songs and demos, Intentions For Intimacy will be released this weekend. The single is the beautiful "New Ocean," and it's a classic SURF song, which actually isn't the case for every song on the album this time around. Although Islands had been regarded earlier this year as the best album SURF has released, Intentions For Intimacy takes it up a notch on all fronts, and includes collaborations from actual bandmates. Still, "New Ocean" is a song that could have fit on nearly any of Tijerina's previous releases, and it would have still stuck out like the single in the bunch. And while each album has had a clear single, this one is full of them. SURF makes me happy in a way that actually visiting the beach and the ocean makes me happy. That's Tijerina's entire trick — evoking the oceanic atmospherics without ever once sounding like Dick Dale or the Ventures. Sit back, relax, grab a drink or a smoke, and just enjoy this heady, intoxicating mix.

Elephant Gunn - "Birds"
I have been eagerly anticipating the new album from Elephant Gunn since last year, and "Birds" is the first single from it to see the light of day. There was a time earlier this year where Elephant Gunn threatened to release the album, but decided the week of their party that more work must be done. (It was still a hell of a party, at least.) It's been three years since they put out their last album Manifest Destin, which they claimed was an EP with nine tracks and near 50-minute running time. Elephant Gunn is Michael Rodriguez (guitar/vocals), Zachary Young (bass/vocals), and Craig Merchant (drums), and they have been tearing it up for most of this decade, getting fairly well known for their live shows alone. "Birds" is an absolutely fantastic track that is easily the best thing Elephant Gunn has recorded to date, not only musically, but the lyrical allegory here is wonderfully clever. There's a slight Pixies vibe going on here; well, maybe not slight, but it doesn't entirely consume their signature song. Oh, and the chorus just rocks you right the fuck out of your chair and catches you unaware, which is a pretty beautiful thing. If I thought I was eager to hear the new album before this single was dropped, now I can't wait to spend time with that record when it's finally released. One of the best rock songs of the year so far.

FEMNY - "Duck Jesus"
I found FEMNY because they were opening for bands I adore like PRO TEENS and Nanami Ozone. I haven't had a chance to catch them live yet, but I was waiting for a single or an EP. Last week, they released their debut song, "Duck Jesus," and if it's any indication of the rest of their sound, I'm going to be keeping tabs on them for each forthcoming release. I can totally see how their sound works with bands like PRO TEENS, and along with Nanami Ozone, the three bands may want to consider a tour together. The soundcloud genre tag is "Glam Jock," which made me laugh out loud when after hearing "Duck Jesus" I thought I'd been listening to a bit too much Bowie. I have no idea what it's about or even who is in the band, but this song is crazy good. It's got a super lounge vibe without being ridiculous. They kind of handle the crooner bit like Andrew Phipps does in PRO TEENS. It is mildly reminiscent of Gospel Claws, and in my book that's nearly as good as it gets. The lyrics are fascinatingly bizarre,  and the overall experience is a bit wonderfully disorienting. I can't wait to check out FEMNY live as soon as possible, because this is one hell of a debut.

Ricky Fitts - "Nightmare"
Ricky Fitts is a fresh new indie pop outfit that gets down to danceable electronica right out of the starting gate. They have a sound that suggests they may have grown up on the like of Depeche Mode, New Order and Death Cab, as well as recognizing that you can rock inside a song that's club ready. The best example of that is when the drums explode along with the guitars for the last minute of the song. Ricky Fitts is Matt Brunsvold (vocals, bass), Alec Bushman (drums), Matt Meza (guitar), and Fletcher Milloy (guitar). This is just straightforward alternative dance rock, and it's akin to a lot of the late-night music found on MTV in the early 1990s. Named for the insightful artist from American Beauty, I somehow have a feeling that the fictional lad would love the music a band taking his namesake is making. "Nightmare" isn't music for heavy analysis. It's music to get your legs moving and your ass shaking. This is their second single, and I would highly recommend checking out "Goodtimes" and keep an ear out for their forthcoming record, The Great Beyond.

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Mitchell Hillman