By Carolyn Todd
“From Nowhere,” Dan Croll
“From Nowhere EP”
Liverpool artist Dan Croll’s debut single “From Nowhere” exceeded an impressive 100,000 plays on SoundCloud in just two weeks, before it was even officially released in digital format. After hearing the superb track, you’ll understand why.
“From Nowhere” is the kind of singular sonic gold that instantly converts first-time listeners into fans. The track has undeniable pop-rock radio appeal, underpinned by a sexy ingenuity and surprising depth. A steady beat and recurrent revving guitar slides lend the song a satisfying pace.
Croll himself exudes the intelligence and creative vision of a burgeoning virtuoso. In “From Nowhere,” you get the feeling that he just might be mocking the bombast of the pop genre with his one dimensional, even corny, chorus.
His mellow voice almost takes a backseat to the sublimely orchestrated instrumentation of his seven-piece band. It’s rare for an artist to successfully mesh as many different musical textures into a pure and cohesive sound as Croll does.
He continues, “I’m between two points. I don’t know what you’d call that, a genre that hasn’t got a name.” Wherever Croll sits on the musical spectrum, we’re happy to meet him there. Expect a full-length debut album in 2013, and, until then, enjoy the three danceable “From Nowhere” remixes on the EP.
“How Do You Ruin Me,” Black Prairie
“A Tear in the Eye is a Wound in the Heart”
This quirky tune hails from the exploratory sophomore album of the Decemberists’ splinter band Black Prairie, which debuted Sept. 18. The eclectic musicians are authentic Americana artists, collaging an unusual sound from the traditions of Appalachian and Eastern European folk, bluegrass, country, jazz and Italian film scores.
“How Do You Ruin Me” is as dark as the title suggests, but also strangely seductive and enigmatic. Black Prairie somehow manages to rock the rapid marching-band drum line that drives the song. Over the brisk percussions, singer Annalisa Tornfelt’s reserved vocals unfurl slowly and sensuously, like smoke rising from the tip of burning incense. It’s a shame that only half the songs on the album showcase her talent (the other half are instrumental). Moody orchestral flourishes such as a romantic accordion and grim autoharp strums percolate the song, occasionally giving way to sorrowful violin and finger-picked Spanish guitar interludes.
The collectively written lyrics are poetically understated and alluring: “In the way that I am my own/In the way that I am undone/In the way that you wish for more/In the way I want to make you mine.”
See Black Prairie at cozy local venue Milkboy Coffee in Philadelphia on Jan. 17.
“Default,” Django Django
Django Django is the kind of band you could hate for their pretentious insistence on being weird…if only they weren’t so darn good.
The single “Default” from their eponymous debut CD is a characteristically bizarre piece—witty, playful and, yes, weird.
Fun and frenetic, Django Django sounds exactly how you’d expect a group who met at art school in Edinburgh to sound. Talking Heads, the Dandy Warhols, Devo, Yeasayer, the Beach Boys, Hot Chip, Beck and Super Furry Animals are all helpful reference points, but the truth is these guys aren’t located on any music map that I’m familiar with.
We’ll call it somewhere between futuristic art rock, surf pop and neo-psychedelia.
With a swaggering electric guitar hook, distorted staccato vocal samples, robotic beeps and blips, tambourine tapping and electronic gurgling, “Default” is an expression of neurotic genius.
The boys even manage to craft a kinetic bridge out of staccato vocal samples that mimic the rhythm of a sped-up cuckoo clock. Django Django doesn’t seem to suffer from an attention deficit disorder so much as thrive on it. “Default” reached the Top 50 singles chart in Belgium this year—fingers crossed that U.S. audiences keep an open mind for these art-school beatniks.
“Stars (Hold On),” Youngblood Hawke
Youngblood Hawke, the L.A. quintet who borrowed its unique moniker from the acclaimed 1961 Herman Wouk novel, is poised to be the next big thing in pop rock. If you heard their radio hit single “We Come Running” this summer, you’ll be glad to know the rest of the band’s EP pulses with the same “young blood.”
The band’s youthful energy infuses their sound with a fresh sense of wonder at the world, and a genuine joie de vivre. The uplifting “Stars (Hold On)” shows off the Youngblood Hawke’s talent at writing lyrics that celebrate a universal optimism: “ We’re all fighting to make something for ourselves / We’ve all got the sun to follow.”
Musically similar to the band Fun., the group often features children’s choirs and soaring choruses, both of which work very well on this particular track (“Hold on, hold on/The stars are ’bout to change”).
If the distinctive vocals sound familiar, it’s because leading members Sam Martin and Simon Katz were formerly of Iglu & Hartly, the short-lived project behind the 2008 breakout indie hit “In This City.”
Catch “Youngblood Hawke” on tour with Keane this January, or download the whole EP for an instant audio pick-me-up.