decker. — "The Holy Ghost"
This past winter, Brandon Decker walked up to me in a parking lot and said, "I've been listening to Muddy Waters." He said it with the same gravity that someone would use if they said, "I've started reading the Russians," and I could feel the profound impact that those records had on him in that moment alone. At the time, he had stripped down the band to just himself and keyboardist Amber Johnson with impressive effect, and the new songs that were emerging were a whole new sound for decker. "The Holy Ghost" is the first official taste of the forthcoming Snake River Blues EP. While the title track and "Blackwash" appeared on Last Exit Live last April, this is the first of the studio recordings off the record to be released. It's a raving rock 'n' roller and a foot-stomping son of a bitch. Decker is still channeling his own personal mythology of old, weird, America, but with a clearly rejuvenated approach. There is an excitement, a blessed desperation in the song itself, that makes your heart race. That spiritual urgency is its strength, and it propels the listener straight through its entire three minutes. It's easily one of the best singles of the year, and the video to accompany it is another masterful production from Matty Steinkamp, who makes this song a cinematic experience unto itself.
i.am.hologram — "Derelict Starchild"
Most artists would rest on their laurels a bit after releasing an album as powerful and captivating as Rejecting The Program, but i.am.hologram is not most artists. Richard Nihil may be the hardest-working musician in Phoenix right now, and he's on something of a manic roll. He has already recorded his follow-up record called Idiot Savant. Being the eager artist he is, he's already started releasing tracks from it through various platforms, but it was "Derelict Starchild" that caught my attention. I don't use the word "genius" lightly, but I've used it in reference to Nihil and his music several times recently, and I mean it. First, I would urge you to check out Rejecting The Program and catch him live. For my money, Nihil also has what is possibly the best vocals in local music, and on "Derelict Starchild" he shows a completely different side of them. Unlike many of his songs, this is pretty stripped down to a man, his voice, and his guitar, and that's all it needs. I had considered his "Osiris (Remind Us)" to be his masterpiece, but this is on the same level of intensity, but in an entirely different way.
Hostile Work Environment — "Skynet"
Hostile Work Environment dropped a new single last week, their first since the release of their debut EP, Suave Labor, in April. It's a great garage rocker that would have fit well alongside any of the numbers on the EP. Jake Paxton, Spencer Ferrarin, and Josh MacFarland get a little more grungy this time around with production at the hands of Ari Leopold (Zodiac Bash, Rolling Blackouts). With a title like "Skynet," you can kind of hear what's coming before pressing play. The lyrics are dark as hell, which seems to be Paxton's signature whether solo or fronting HWE, with a post-apocalyptic setting that suggests that imagined future is pretty much happening now. It's a dismal, dystopian world here, with "conveyor belt conversations" and "information scrolling down your screens." The ultimate conclusion that "this is your life, falling apart, waiting to die" is utterly bleak, but such nihilism hasn't rocked quite this great since the early '90s. Paxton's emotive, Morrison-esque growl is perfectly framed by raging guitar, thunderous bass, and Ferrarin pounding the skins for all they are worth. I'm guessing the next record may be a little heavier if this is any indication.
Former Friends of Young Americans — "Redwood Beach"
I had begun to write off Former Friends of Young Americans from putting out anything new, since they haven't released any material since their 2013 album, Dives Like A Fool, Swims Like The Dead. They've also moved to Bowling Green, Kentucky, since then, and I was sure that life had swept them away from making further music. Last week, the release of "Redwood Beach" came as quite a surprise, to say the very least, and with it the promise of a forthcoming album called Love & Vitriol. Former Friends of Young Americans 2016 sound nothing like FFOYA did on their last album, which is consistent since that album sounded nothing like their album before that. Yet all eras of their work, mainly guided by Toby Fatzinger, have an underlying musical signature to them. That said, it is his wife, Amanda Jane, who truly shines on "Redwood Beach" as the lead singer and keyboard player on this heavy synth number. I'm not sure if there is a genre for dark-synth pop folk rock, but if there isn't, FFOYA should be the founders of such a thing, because that's where this song stands in sound.
Doomed To Bloom — "Let Go"
I discovered Doomed To Bloom when I noticed them on a bill with Captain Samurai and Sun Hex. I loved the name, so I had to check out their recordings. It turns out they just released their third record of the year, a five-track EP called 1995 that's supremely fascinating. While their first two records were more on the experimental side (the instrumental Red Lights) or in-joke goofy fun (Valentine's Day), 1995 is actually a well-thought-out, five-track collection of two original songs (with two versions each) and a Taylor Swift cover. "Let Go" is the lead track, and it immediately got my attention for its intimate homage to Magnetic Fields and/or the works of Stephen Merritt. I don't even know if it's an homage, but the song is so close to Get Lost-era Magnetic Fields that I loved it the instant I heard it. There's a charming, haunting intimacy to "Let Go" that's unlike anything happening right now; add to that intelligent, reflective lyrics, and you've got a winning combination. I will definitely be keeping my ears open for more from Doomed To Bloom. If you have only time for one more song after "Let Go," indulge in the glorious cover of Swift's "Welcome To New York."