Sweet Ghosts — "Wreckage"
Tucson's Sweet Ghosts is the stunning duo of Katherine Byrnes and Ryan Alfred. The pair employs other musicians in the studio and onstage, but its Byrnes and Alfred at the center of this Americana vortex of sound. On "Wreckage," on a seven-inch single that comes bundled with a five-song digital download EP, they feature John Convertino (Calexico), Ben Nisbet (Tucson Symphony), Ryan David Green, Collin Shook, and David Sterbis. This is their first new music since last year's debut album, Uncertain Truths, and it is an amazing continuation of what was started there. Byrnes and Alfred's voices wind around each other hypnotically, while the music casts a spell on your soul, lulling you into submission. This may be their best song to date, not only in construction, but in terms of production as well. It's a summery, sexy number with so many brilliant musical moments contained in its three minutes that it's almost overwhelming. This has bit of a desert rock 'n' roll backbone to it and a touch of Gypsy movement to it. It makes you want to dance slow and long, soft and sultry. The band's EP comes out September 4.
Bear State — "Wish You Were Dead"
There seems to be a burgeoning shoegaze scene in the Valley of the Sun, and at the forefront are Daisy Face and Bear State. The latter offers a dreamy, guitar-laden sound, with breathy vocals and dizzying atmospherics. Bear State just released its new single, "Wish You Were Dead," and it's one of the band's best yet. I hope this is the tip of the iceberg for what's to come from Bear State for the second half of the year. This is the band's first new song since the "Cool Things" b/w "Dark Comedy" seven-inch released in February, and I would love to get an EP with those tracks, this song, and maybe a few others — or even an entire album. This song is probably best-suited to listening while high, whatever your high may be, natural or chemical. You'd think with a title like "Wish You Were Dead," it would come off angry and vitriolic, but Bear State takes it and makes it feel like a love song. The lyrics are nearly indecipherable, as is the case with most shoegaze material, but you get the sense that this is about love and loss, sadness and regret, and, yes, wishing that a horrible person who fucked with your head and your heart were dead. And yet it feels dreamy and romantic, which is no mean feat.
Phantom Party — "Catholic School"
If you ever wondered what a surf band would sound like with Morrissey as its lead singer, ponder no more. The answer is Phantom Party. This may be one of my favorite recent finds. "Catholic School" is the lead track from the group's debut EP, Stellar, and it's probably the best example of Phantom Party's sound. For an EP recorded in a series of Chandler bedrooms over the course of two days, it sounds damn good. I get the sense that this band is very young, and its introspective lyrics focus 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 how it really doesn't work out. Somehow, Phantom Party turns this into an amazing rocking little romp that is as much about their love for surf music as it is for their love for The Smiths. Morrissey would be proud.
SURF — "Salt Water"
I have always wondered why this band named itself SURF, since it doesn't really play what most people would call surf music. It puzzled me until Aaron "Surf" Tijerina released his newest EP, LOCALS, this week. But after five or six listens, I got it. SURF doesn't play surf music; it literally is surf music. SURF evokes the feeling of the surf, the feeling of lassitude and relaxation one finds on holiday at the beach, the joy of being oceanfront. This is done in much the same way The Wiley Ones do this on several of their tracks. "Salt Water" is an outright declaration of this notion, with its start of wave and seagulls, and then the lulling, sleepy guitar, and comforting vocals set in. This song sounds how it feels to lay on the beach in the summer sun and listen to the waves, let your mind go, and find love. It simply has a lovely laid-back feel that gets you high without even trying — whether it's that guitar or Tijerina's sexy as hell echoed vocal, it's all a beautiful time. You could totally picture him playing this on an acoustic guitar sitting around a bonfire in the sand. And if he makes a video for this, that's what it should totally be. This has been immediately placed in my "Summer Soundtrack" for this year, that's for sure.
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Lay-Luz — "Slick"
In looking for cool shows to check out this weekend, I stumbled upon Lay-Luz. I had never heard them, and though I think the name is unfortunate because of the existence of La Luz, this local band's music is pretty righteous. Hans Miles (vox/guitar) Grant Hiiva (vox/drums) and Brandon Altopp (vox/bass) present some goddamned dreamy summer tunes on their eponymously title debut full-length album released earlier this month. I've listened to the whole thing three or four times, and I keep coming back to "Slick" as my favorite track on the release. They 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 brilliant arrangements and generally present some fairly amazing music designed for a penultimate 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. The entire album is like that, but this is the synthesis, this is the gateway drug to Lay-Luz. I would highly recommend catching them live this Friday, July 31, at Last Exit Live when they play with The Whisper Engine and Rose Colored Eyes.