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.
Stephen Steinbrink - "Absent Mind"
Before he was Olympia, Washington's Stephen Steinbrink, he belonged to Phoenix, Arizona. I first became aware of his music when he released Desert Wasn't Welcome under the name French Quarter back in 2011, and I've been following him ever since. Steinbrink makes some of the best indie pop available these days with his glorious vocals, melodic guitar lines, and a dreamy soundscape that closely approaches The Shins at their best moments. The exception here is that every one of his songs seems like one of those "best moments." His albums are amazingly consistent, and though Anagrams is his seventh album, it's been two years in the making. "Absent Mind" is the pre-release single from the album and it gives you a perfect sample of what his pop perfection is all about and serves as a tasty teaser for the rest of the album. While the entire song makes me go a bit out of my head, when the piano kicks in right in the middle it nearly sets me over the edge. Anagrams is already on bandcamp in its entirety, but it will be officially released by Melodic Records in the UK on July 1.
Miller James - "I Will Wait For You"
Miller James used to front the local band Bad Lucy, and right when they were at the pinnacle of their powers and seemingly on the road to incredible success, they disbanded. Luckily, James didn't stop making music, and ever so slowly he's been releasing songs over the last couple years. I hope this is all leading up to an album or at the very least an EP. Just last week he dropped another new tune on us with the video for "I Will Wait For You." This follows his single from last year, "Honestly," and "Fade To Blue" from the year before that. With the infrequency of his releases you'd think that each song would be vastly different from each other, but they are shaping up for a pretty consistent solo debut. I've always been in awe of his vocal prowess, and his range is beautifully displayed in this number. On "I Will Wait For You," he is joined by Clint Wells on electric guitar, Johnny Pisano on bass, Alex Alexander on drums and Bob Hoag on keys and tambourine. James always seems to walk that singer/songwriter line between electric folk rock and a hint of Americana. While the musical arrangement is great here, this is all about that beautiful voice. I hope he has a record in him, because one single year is just not enough for such a talent.
DWARF - "Too Close To The Flame"
DWARF recently played its last show for the summer, but the band did not go on hiatus without leaving us a parting gift. How thoughtful. That same day, they dropped a video for a brand new song called "Too Close To The Flame." DWARF is Bailey Stewart on bass, Sage Donaldson on guitar and lead vocals, and Dominic Crooks on drums. If you haven't seen them live before, I would highly recommend that you put this on your list of things to do when they return in the fall. You have never seen a band happier to perform in your life and in addition to that, Stewart is probably the most active, joyful bass player in all of local music history, not a hyperbole in any way shape or form. Everyone last Saturday was transfixed on his performance and had difficulty not watching him for their entire set. At five minutes long you think you might tire of a fast-paced indie rock song, but the thought will never occur to you once. You just want it to continue longer. The video is a dizzying visual collage of found footage that works perfectly with the pace of the tune and seems to emphasize Donaldson's flawless vocals that guide the entire thing.
Andrew Gork - "Giving Up"
Andrew Gork's first introduction to me was memorable. He simply asked me one day "Do you like sad bastard indie pop music?" The answer was "Of course I do," and he sent me his debut EP Lonely Crowd, which I finally gave a spin a week or so ago. After several listens I kept coming back to the opening track "Giving Up," which lyrically is very much "Sad Bastard Indie Pop," but musically is a rather uplifting acoustic guitar song that has as much modern folk influence as it does pop. It's also got this melodic hook that haunted me for a couple days as well. I love this kind of musical dissonance where the music is psychologically uplifting while the lyrics are a total downer. It's a brave way to kick off your entire EP, but it's an excellent choice and would make for a fine debut single all ready for the radio at just over three minutes. It's also not self-indulgent in its downward reflection and features some beautiful backing vocals by Kara Resevsz, Chad Joseph Standlea, Carrie-Lynn Van-Winkle and Cierra Marie. I would encourage you to check out the entire EP from this brave new talent, it's well worth your time.
Desert Eyes - "Closer to a Fall"
I've been following vocalist Ree Boado for nearly as long as I've been writing about local music. She has been one of my favorite local vocalists for nearly a decade, whether it was her solo material or with her band Dearspeak. She has put out some of the most inspiring songs I've ever heard and some that I can still sing off the top of my head to this day. In a surprise move, two years ago, she had the opportunity to move to China and she ran with it. Boado announce recently that she was returning to the States, but in fact she won't be returning to Arizona, but rather relocating to Nashville. Just this week a collaborative effort called Desert Eyes released their first single and it features Boado (vocals, lyrics, melody), Richard Lam (guitar, production, engineering), JoJo Nieves (bass guitar), Justan Jesse (from Dearspeak, on drums) and Michael Obar (keys). The results are the texturally beautiful "Closer To A Fall." It's a fascinating project and a fine return to form for Boado, whose vocals have only grown stronger during her time as an expat. I'll be interested to see what Desert Eyes will do next. If nothing else they've got this amazing soulful single, as shrouded in an emotional darkness as it is shining in enlightenment.