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Alternative & Indie - Released August 21, 2020 | Hardly Art

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"Opener ‘This Is Not the Indie Rock I Signed Up For’ has a gentle introduction and exquisite vocal harmonies, before turning things on their head by including discordant, uncomfortable sounds." © TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released February 21, 2020 | Hardly Art

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"THE GOLDEN ONE is one of the most unexpectedly moving comedy specials in recent memory..." © TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released September 20, 2019 | Hardly Art

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Alternative & Indie - Released September 20, 2019 | Hardly Art

Chastity Belt haven't really changed that much since they released their first album, No Regerts, in 2013, but the changes they have made mean a great deal. Where they previously sounded at once rough and languid, they've grown into a band whose instrumental interplay is artful without seeming pretentious, and the dry snarky wit that was a large part of their early work has faded into the middle distance as their lyrics explore more personal and introspective themes. 2019's Chastity Belt, the group's self-titled fourth album, is still clearly the work of the same band, but this music doesn't shout, it insinuates, and the tone of the conversation is intelligent and unguarded. On Chastity Belt, Julia Shapiro's lyrics are full of musings about her life and her circumstances dotted with details about CDs that skip in the car, needing a new bike, or the judgmental look from a friend who knows you're hung over. The stories feel honest, and are more effective for it. There are moments on Chastity Belt where the volume and distortion turn up and add some dynamic texture to the melodies (especially on "It Takes Time"), but even when this music drifts along on its own momentum, the guitar patterns from Shapiro and Lydia Lund -- drummer Gretchen Grimm also adds guitar on a few tracks -- mesh beautifully, with the whole much more than the individual parts. With Grimm and bassist Annie Truscott holding down the bottom end with a subtle but sure hand, this is music that takes its time but is never less than absorbing and rewards repeated listening. Chastity Belt's musical evolution has been a fascinating and rewarding thing to witness, and this may be their smartest and most compelling music to date. © Mark Deming /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released July 26, 2019 | Hardly Art

The Pacific Northwest-based trio Dude York hit the punk-pop jackpot with their 2017 album Sincerely. They added bassist/vocalist Claire England to the lineup, added some punch to their sound, and wrote a batch of songs that hit the sweet spot between heartache and joy, soundtracked by giddy voices and riffy guitars. It was a fine formula and it didn't need to change for them to make another strong record. Things did change, though, and on 2019's Falling the group tweak their style in ways big and small, while ultimately proving equally impressive in the end. Maybe even a little more satisfying. The biggest alteration was having England write and sing half the songs. She provided two of the highlights on Sincerely, adding some open-hearted sincerity and big hooks to the mix. She does the same here, and her half of the record is stadium-sized emo pop, full of earnest lyrics about falling in and out of love, sky-scraping guitars, and her brightly hued vocals. Her contributions -- like the hard-charging "I'm the 1 4 U" and "Unexpected," or the insistent "Let Down" -- are brimming with energy and have a joyous sense of freedom that comes through in her vocals and the rippling guitar and power-packed drumming. On the flip side, it sounds like guitarist Peter Richards had a rough stretch in between records. His songs are heartbroken and desperate, with the guitars dialed down and subtle keyboards added. His vocals are one tear-stained step past melancholy, and even the addition of England's harmonies can't break through the gloom. The combination of quietly layered arrangements and super-sad lyrics mean that his half is way less Weezer and much more Cure-inspired. Many of the songs capture the same resigned and beautiful melancholy that permeates the mid-period work of Shout Out Louds. His melodies and vocals take on the weight that England's have cast off; tracks like "Only Wish" and the Ramones-quoting "How It Goes" are dark, and the title of "Doesn't Matter" provides a solid clue as to his state of mind. Dude York prove just as adept at these more subdued and sad songs as they do at the up-tempo rockers, and the blending of the two styles and tones makes for a fascinating record. It's certainly more complicated, both musically and emotionally, and shows the band growing in interesting ways. The cut and paste of wildly different moods and sounds might cause the group to split in two in the future, but on Falling the bond holds tight. © Tim Sendra /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released June 28, 2019 | Hardly Art

Chicago band Lala Lala is centered around the dark-yet-vulnerable songwriting of Lillie West. West's songs reached a wider audience with her 2018 album The Lamb, a collection of straightforward and intuitive indie rock songs about sobriety, trauma, and recovery. The album brought Lala Lala to legions of new listeners for the first time, but was preceded by the more lo-fi rawness of West's 2016 self-released debut, Sleepyhead. Though The Lamb wasn't quite refined, Sleepyhead presented the project in a far grainier and messier way. In between the two albums, West lost a close friend, experienced a home invasion, and went sober, all of which were reflected on directly in her songs. That direct songwriting perspective highlights just how different things were for West at the time Lala Lala was starting out. Sleepyhead's blown-out drums, growling bass lines, and walls of layered vocals all look to '90s grunge as the template for West's lyrics about restlessness and social anxiety. "Dream Song" zips along impatiently, with West rushing lyrics about dreams of a better situation as if she just wants to finish one song so another can start. Boring small-talk conversations and dragging social obligations show up on "Fuck with Your Friends" and "Cool Party but Then We All Left," the latter cloaking a tender interplay between drifting guitar and dissatisfied vocals in dreamy reverb. The short album lasts less than half an hour, wandering between solo songs like "Bully" and full-band explosions like the stand-out "Nothing." Hooky and uncluttered pop songs married to painfully intimate lyrical narratives drew many fans to The Lamb, and Sleepyhead is as strong of a statement as The Lamb's more subdued updates to its uncooked beginnings. Listeners intrigued by riskier production and the happy accidents of lo-fi recording might even prefer the scattered and sometimes unhinged sounds. © Fred Thomas /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released June 14, 2019 | Hardly Art

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Alternative & Indie - Released June 14, 2019 | Hardly Art

Julia Shapiro has firmly established herself as Seattle's leading oracle of witty feminist snark through her work with Chastity Belt and Childbirth, two bands whose songs about women's lives in contemporary America are both perceptive and hilarious. But Shapiro suggested there were other sides to her musical personality on Chastity Belt's 2017 release I Used to Spend So Much Time Alone, where her songwriting became more personal and introspective, and she bravely wades deep into these waters on her first solo album, 2019's Perfect Version. The punky buzz of Shapiro's earlier work is pushed to the margins, and instead she summons clouds of languid guitar tones, suggesting a more intimate variation on shoegaze, alongside minimal bass and drum patterns, though she switches to a massive, roaring guitar tone for "Harder to Do." (Shapiro also handled all the instruments and vocals on Perfect Version, as well as recording and mixing it mostly by herself.) Perfect Version is Shapiro's most personal and revealing work to date; written and recorded after various events threw her physical and emotional health into a tailspin, this music is the sound of someone taking a long, deep look into themself, trying to identify their mistakes and puzzling over where and how to move forward. From wondering just how it is other people know how to be happy to stewing over how much she's revealing about herself on social media, Perfect Version is a set of songs about one woman at a crossroads in her life. It lacks much of Shapiro's trademark humor, yet the grounded intelligence and unflinching honesty of the songs and performances is consistently powerful and absolutely her own. Time will tell if Perfect Version is a fascinating anomaly in Julia Shapiro's catalog or a bold step into a new phase of her career, but either way it's brave, powerful music that speaks from the heart and the mind. Anyone who has liked her work with Chastity Belt or Childbirth should investigate this study of the emotional flip side of Shapiro's songs. © Mark Deming /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released May 3, 2019 | Hardly Art

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Alternative & Indie - Released May 3, 2019 | Hardly Art

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Alternative & Indie - Released April 5, 2019 | Hardly Art

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Alternative & Indie - Released April 5, 2019 | Hardly Art

Shana Cleveland has found an audience in the indie rock community as the leader of the fine surf-infused band La Luz, but before the group took off, she was recording her own variety of idiosyncratic indie folk. Taking a busman's holiday from the group, Cleveland has cut a second album of songs fashioned around her acoustic guitar work and evocative melodies (the first, Oh Man, Cover the Ground, was recorded in 2011 and released in 2015), and 2019's Night of the Worm Moon is a quietly dazzling exercise in moody, expressive acoustic music. The heart of these songs can be found in Cleveland's hushed vocals and subtle guitar work, which lend these performances a feeling somewhere between John Fahey and early Leonard Cohen (think Songs of Leonard Cohen, not I'm Your Man). Meanwhile, the arrangements, in particular Will Sprott's keyboards, fill out the melodies with sounds that conjure a cool, forbidding psychedelic undercurrent that are a splendid complement for Cleveland's spectral guitar. This is a far cry from the smart but sunny approach of La Luz, but Cleveland's understated vocal delivery and the impressionistic bent of her lyrics are two areas of common ground between these projects. And if Night of the Worm Moon is a very different kettle of fish than La Luz, it's similarly rewarding. This album is superb rainy-day listening, music that's subtle but effectively draws the listener into its web, and Cleveland's songs cast a spell that's truly beguiling. At its best, Night of the Worm Moon could pass for some forgotten freak-folk classic of the late '60s or early '70s, though you don't have to follow the trippiness of the past to appreciate its many pleasures. © Mark Deming /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released October 26, 2018 | Hardly Art

"The songs on CRUSH CRUSHER can evoke great things like early Nineties shoegaze and girly-voice/big-guitar bands like Charli Bliss." © TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released October 26, 2018 | Hardly Art

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Alternative & Indie - Released September 28, 2018 | Hardly Art

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Alternative & Indie - Released September 28, 2018 | Hardly Art

"On her second album, Lillie West retains the charming simplicity of her songs, but she finds new depth as a songwriter as she explores the act of standing up to herself." © TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released July 13, 2018 | Hardly Art

The full-length debut of a project by a well-established member of the Seattle indie music community, Single Rider introduces the discontented synth pop of Jenn Ghetto, formerly of Carissa's Wierd and S. Over the course of more than a decade with her solo project S, she delivered guitar-centric lo-fi that was eventually fleshed out with a full band on 2014's Cool Choices. After releasing the dark, post-punky "No One," her first song as Jenn Champion, in 2016, she settled into a more elegant, longing, synth-textured sound that, alongside programmed drums, still incorporates guitar. The airy opening track, "O.M.G. (I'm All Over It)," has a sophisticated, jazzy pop sheen that recalls bands like Everything But the Girl, and 2010s bands Tiny Fireflies and Young Galaxy. Songs like "Coming for You" and "Holding On" are similarly delicate and haunting but still anchored by sturdy beats and earworm choruses. That recipe holds true for most of the album, though it avoids feeling formulaic with the help of tracks including "Mainline," which plays with wobbly textures, funky rhythms, and judiciously placed silences. Elsewhere, "Time to Regulate" makes efficient use of contrasting timbres, including its keyboard tones, cowbell, and a rare appearance by Ghetto's high falsetto, whereas the rest of the set is heavily populated by her ruminating mid-range. Also danceable, it's a record that might have received heavy rotation on the MTV of the mid-'80s, although lyrics about timeless topics like unrequited love and just plain coping, and its intersection with the more wistful, pop-leaning indie electronica, make Single Rider very much of its time. © Marcy Donelson /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released July 13, 2018 | Hardly Art

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Alternative & Indie - Released May 11, 2018 | Hardly Art

La Luz had their formula firmly in place on their debut album, 2013's It's Alive, and they're a group who've managed to grow and mature without major changes to their aural signature. Their fusion of vintage surf sounds, garage rock, and smart indie pop sounded clever and well-crafted right out of the box, and there's been a certain sense of "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" in their subsequent recordings. That said, their third full-length, 2018's Floating Features, is a step forward from their first two albums, if not an especially dramatic one. Musically, La Luz sound tighter and more emphatic here, with the performances boasting a bit more muscle, Alice Sandahl's vintage keyboards taking more chances, and the harmonies revealing more sparkle. Guitarist and songwriter Shana Cleveland has always believed that surf music doesn't have to be silly or facile, and her lyrics on Floating Features are intelligent and thoughtful, pondering an unmoored existence in "Cicada," dabbling in West Coast folk-rock tropes on "Mean Dream," and fearing global mortality in "Don't Leave Me Here on the Earth." And Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys produced the sessions for Floating Features, and while his touch is unobtrusive, he does get a more polished and full-bodied sound out of La Luz. Cleveland's guitar cuts deeper on these performances, Marian Li-Pino's drums have more depth, and there's a sense of detail that flatters the performances. If you liked La Luz before, there's nothing on Floating Features that's likely to change that, but their craft has gotten stronger and the improved audio helps to make that clear. This album is smart fun from a band that actually makes something fresh out of the sounds of the past, and as long as La Luz keep doing that, they'll be worth hearing. © Mark Deming /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released May 11, 2018 | Hardly Art

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