Words by Art Jipson
Every month Off Shelf contributor and Your Tuesday Afternoon Alternative host Art Jipson brings you the best singles of the month and puts together a playlist for your enjoyment. Below you’ll find five highlighted songs that stood above the rest, which is followed by the entire playlist. Please follow our Spotify account so you don’t miss any future playlists!
Multimagic – Naked – Naked (self-released)
Cincinnati’s Multimagic (previously featured as a Shelf Sessions artist) return with another big 80s sound but not in that awful big hair way, instead the band has made a song that evokes the best of the catchy chorus songs from that era without being cheesy. Moreover, let’s be honest that is a trap that so many 80s influenced bands fall into! Naked is the second track on the band’s latest EP Move On, which also collects their recent singles ‘Dreams’ and ‘Sunshine.’ The narrative of the song is about being exposed and vulnerable to those around you. In addition, in true indie fashion, this song captures the feeling of insecurity while tell that story with beautiful melodies and a damn catchy chorus!
Me & Mountains – Dances with the Devil – Dream Sequence, Vol. 1 (self-released)
New music from Dayton, Ohio’s Me & Mountains have been sorely missed in the past few years! Three years since the band’s sterling record Gold, was simply too long. Dances with the Devil is part of a five song EP where the band created music around the ideas of images, dreams and nightmares. Apparently, this is the first in that series which is very good news indeed for anyone who wants more power indie in their life or perhaps it would be more accurate to say ears. This song will become stuck in your head and you will find yourself forcing everyday speech into this incredibly catchy tune. This song is currently a front-runner for my song of the year, yeah it’s pretty good.
Varsity – Second Act – Second Act (Run For Cover Records)
Varsity demonstrates that one can reflect on their experiences without sounding maudlin, depressed or far worse – boring. The chiming and shimmering guitar on this single that the band has included on their recently released compilation, The Basement Takes (2015-2016), makes one wonder why this song was not on the band’s 2018 release Parallel Person. If you want some melodic guitar, keyboard led attack then this will make you wonder about the chance and opportunity of making a difficult choice. If you have never listened to Varsity, I highly recommend that you spend some time with the band’s early music just for the song Downtown but know that you may not want to sing the chorus in front of the wee ones.
Cavetown – Things That Make It Warm – Things That Make It Warm (Cave Music Limited / Sire Records)
English Singer-songwriter and YouTuber, Robin Daniel Skinner creates a clever paean to domestic connection with his latest song, ‘Things That Make It Warm’. While Skinner is far removed from being an indie songwriter there is something compelling about his odd description of making a hole a home. The distinctive and almost laconic pacing is strangely comforting. The slightly off-time hand claps, humming and slow even pacing of the vocal set against a simple guitar phrase and accordion draw a listener into the music’s embrace. Sometimes there is nothing wrong with that slightly torn, ratty sweater that you put on because it makes you feel comfortable and warm; this song is exactly like that.
Beach Bunny – Dream Boy (Mom+Pop)
How about a little indie pop for your late fall? Normally that sound fits more with the idea of summer or spring, but it completely works here. Beach Bunny create a simple pop song that you just cannot walk away from even if you want to do so. The rest of your ‘To-Do’ list can wait. Take a few moments and enjoy. Led by Lili Trifilio, this Chicago-based band has written a fun hooky song that is light and breezy without being condescending or foolish. The balance in the song is in Trifilio’s honest no-frills delivery. The band is releasing a new record on Valentine’s Day 2020 already entitled Honeymoon that I hope is as carefree as this song. Sure, jaded is easy and some music listeners will dismiss the carefree nature of songs like this but there is nothing wrong with songs about longing, loss and possibility set to a pure pop melody. Moreover, on that, this song delivers in spades.
Girl in Red – i’ll die anyway. – Chapter 2 (AWAL Recordings Ltd)
The guitar sound here reminiscent of Proper Ornaments or Ultimate Painting – bands that both share an amazing guitar player in James Hoare – and that is about where the similarities come to a grinding halt. Perhaps, this song has more in common with Alvvays or Amber Arcades with the layered guitars, bass and drums with vocals that are not shouted above the instruments. Melding vocals and instruments is a critical overlooked skill set in popular music these days. The vocals are part of the melody and that makes for solid listening. Girl in Red appears to be getting quite a bit of attention but I would argue that the response is warranted because the arrangements in songs like i’ll die anyway pull you into the dark with a driving urgency that we all feel from time to time.
Snarls – Walk in the Woods – Walk in the Woods (self-released)
With Walk in the Woods, Columbus-based Snarls continues their move toward a more perfect indie pop song. The band led by siblings Mick Martinez and Max Martinez create an alternative to the heavily produced slick pop of the most popular bands and performers. Alas, If only the recording industry could move away from the hyper-controlled within the smallest adjustments in frequency were paying attention to the ruckus joyful pop of Snarls! When the chorus hits with “I am so stuck here!” you feel that sensation of being frozen in place which is not bad at all. The band describes themselves as “emo glitter pop” and that works as well as any description that I can write here but whatever we wish to call it – its fun and its real and that is in the end what truly matters.
John Tiller – Battle Ready – Battle Ready (Harp Records)
Who would have thought that some captivating Americana would come courtesy of England? While the UK has long been known as fans of rockabilly – how many of us remember that Bill Hailey was a huge star to rival any other popular musicians of the 1950s? Manchester, England known as the birthplace of The Smiths, Oasis, Happy Mondays, and The Buzzcocks to name a few rock and post-punk bands is also supporting a resurgence in soulful acoustic music. Perception can be everything in popular music. The nature of the idea of Americana style is a distinctive country Appalachian roots-rock that takes the pain and struggle of everyday experience and translates it through the vehicle of a combination of acoustic and electric instruments. If you closed your eyes and listen to John Tiller, you would swear that you were in the heart of the American south; that is a good thing.
Not November, but we love it just the same…
Guided By Voices – Downer – Sweating the Plague (Guided By Voices, Inc.)
Released in Late October (almost November), Sweating the Plague, continues the demonstration of rocking lo-fi songcraft that Robert Pollard is so appropriately famous for in his music over many decades of excellent music. Downer, the opening track of the Sweating the Plague, demonstrates an almost Archers of Loaf tuning on the guitars that serves the band quite well. With elements reminiscent of Superchunk, Crooked Fingers, Polvo and the aforementioned Archers of Loaf, this record feels as if it came from Raleigh or Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The current lineup has hit a sweet spot gelling as performers playing off each other while serving the song without extras, show boating or complicated soloing. The songs are the focus for GBV here! The feeling in the music has always been more important for Pollard than making some life changing statement! This approach is something that popular music needs!
Van Dale – Hard Year – The Visitor (Keroleen Records)
Van Dale is often described as a fuzzy Doom Punk and yet that label overlooks and minimizes the melody and hooks that this band has at their disposal. Led by Joe Camerlengo, Van Dale captures a nervous and unstable energy that makes this song – and the entire record – so damn fine. Imagine Robert Pollard singing with an anxiety that makes each word stand on its own, “It was a hard year when I realized that she wasn’t coming back!” We are all taught, tight and wound up over emotions that we think we understand but in reality cannot easily be explained or expressed. Hard year demonstrates the catharsis that we need when we face up to the difficult realizations that what we want is just out of our grasp no matter how hard we try to hang onto something fleeting or as it is just out of reach.