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 nine 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!
The Well Wishers – We Grow Up (ThatWasMySkullMusic / Big Stir Records)
Jeff Shelton is something of an indie superhero. Jeff has been involved in far too many projects to list in this column. Fans of indie music know his prolific output and contributions from The Spinning Jennies to Trip Wire. This song was written and recorded during the second week of California’s “Stay in Place” requirements as a response to the current coronavirus challenge. Shelton’s “We Grow Up” captured many of the mixed and contradictory emotions that result from the crisis: concern for others, introspection, hope for the future, care, family, and the need for common connection. One could easily give in to cynicism and craft a melancholy riddled think piece, but then you would demonstrate your ignorance of Shelton’s work. He takes the opportunity to create a rocker that demonstrates the power of community in a four-minute explosion of uplifting indie power pop glory. All proceeds from this single go to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy’s COVID-19 Response Fund. This fund focuses specifically on supporting nonprofit organizations working directly to respond to the pandemic among the most vulnerable populations in order to help build their capacity for response. disasterphilanthropy.org/cdp-fund/cdp-covid-19-response-fund/
Mike Bankhead – Bright Ideas (self-released)
Mike Bankhead has constructed a hook filled indie power pop gem that carries the influences of Guided by Voices, The Beach Boys and in a less musical vein The Wright Brothers and other inventors from his home town of Dayton, Ohio. Instead of feeling contrived, Bankhead swirls the music with such precision that it feels fresh and engaging. You wonder while listening to this tune, ‘What are the bright ideas that should be shared?’ This song picks up in some ways from where Mike’s previous single, Little Light, dropped off – an exploration of music influences and the ways artists can build or transform those influences into something unique and captivating. Happy to report that Mike is hard at work on his follow up to his first full length, Echo in the Crevices, with studio wizard Patrick Himes at Reel Love Studios. We are excited for the sophomore full length from Mr. Bankhead and if it has sonic ideas this gripping than it will be a record that must be experienced.
The Bye Bye Blackbirds – You Were All Light (self-released)
The Bradley Skaught led Bye Bye Blackbirds return after three years with ‘Boxer at Rest’. The band continues its creative blend of country, rock, indie and roots music cocktail. Never one to rest on their past work, BBBs attempt to expand the sonic canvas of their past work. Part ‘60s music experimentation drawn with ranging ‘70s sophistication and contemporary indie focus, the BBBs illustrate the significance of clever songwriting without giving up melodic insistence in the birth of a driving tune that will make you hum along for days. If you are seeking a band that is unafraid to embrace the history of rock and roll – not with veneration and detachment but with excitement on what can be built for the future while keeping things rollicking and rolling then this song (and entire record) is for you! ‘You Were All Light’ collides with the assumptions that such music must sound a certain way because that is what the music of the past sounded like. The swing of the guitar melds with the horn section and the driving drums. If you are excited by the promise of rock and roll then this song and the entire album is a gift for you that you did not know that you needed.
High on Stress – Wish This Moment Gone from Hold Me In (self-released)
Minneapolis-based High on Stress deserves a star on the outside walls of First Avenue, the venerable music venue in their home city called by many in the 80s – the home of Prince because of ‘Purple Rain’. If your knowledge of Minneapolis music ends with Prince and does not explore the city’s storied indie and alternative history with The Replacements, Husker Du, Soul Asylum and The Jayhawks then you are missing out. High on Stress follow elements of all of those iconic Minneapolis indie bands. The entire record manages to collect the best elements of alt-country, indie song writing and pop sensibility. Nick Leet’s vocals recall the aching delivery of Paul Westerberg in his strongest moments without feeling overblown. On this particular track, Laurie Lindeen (Zuzu’s Petals) adds to the emotional heft of the song with her simple yet plaintive backing vocals which increase the dimension of the song and blend beautifully with Leet’s laconic yet heartbreaking vocal. This record is a terrific collection and bolds well for indie music from Minneapolis. Highly recommend ‘Work Release’, ‘Klonopin and Alcohol,’ and ‘Progress is a Busted Line.’
The Corner Laughers come winding back with the first single from their long awaited new album. ‘The Accepted Time’ (due June 5 via Big Stir Records) demonstrates their lyrical folk pop music approach. The actual lyrics in the song feel like a page from a personal journal where the narrator takes the reader through the experiences of a long walk or outdoor adventure with a child – “The path down Eagle Hill, like a river, like a winding tributary to the sea, and sees the town, in a busy morning or a quiet afternoon.” The journey feels languid yet important: “Our feet upon the leaves, that have fallen, overnight while we were sleeping, and the sign we stop to read, in the church yard, right beside the open gate.” The song feels intimate and special a sign of the human connection of holding hands and taking a walk together where you discuss the sights, smells and the interesting items along the way. The single is backed with the terrific ‘Queen of the Meadow.’
This song from an album that was not mean to be. Working from a jam session, The Dream Syndicate found a psychedelic sonic experiment that captured an expansive freeform stretch. Yet, songs on the record like, ‘The Longing,’ do not feel accidental. The opportunity to continue the improvisation that has made The Dream Syndicate such a compelling music group that continues to use hooks and melody. The comments about wanting, desiring and experiencing feel less like anecdotes and more like realization. The slow burn of the song feels perfectly composed and fit together. “You felt invincible, anything was possible, now all that is left, is the longing.” The build of the song is reminiscent of the music of Greg Dulli including a strong belief vocal where the singer needs you to hear them and believe it too.
Peel Dream Magazine is the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Joe Stevens, who established the PDM in 2018 with the album ‘Modern Meta Physic,’ a tribute in many ways to the dream-pop of the 1990s. In that incarnation, the “band” was primarily the work of Stevens. Peel Dream Magazine return and as a full band with “Agitprop Alterna,” an album inspired by shoe gaze, alternative and yes again, indie pop. Not afraid to explore the fuzzy, sonically dense yet melodic music of the ‘80s through the ‘00s, Peel Dream Magazine incorporates discord and angular rhythms in service of a melody rather than an aggregate musical cacophony. ‘Pill’ in particular demonstrates that Stevens can shape the sound in a collaborative spirit reminiscent of PDMs live incarnation as a full band in the studio. How to build a song that is more than just assembled pieces so that the whole is indeed greater than the sum of its parts is a project that Peel Dream Magazine is quite prepared to tackle with enthusiasm. In addition, yes the name Peel here is a reference to legendary UK DJ John Peel whose efforts influenced Stevens and the band.
Brian Baker – The Wheels Are in Motion from Outdoor Drama (self-released)
The leader of Columbus, Ohio’s terrific Brat Curse and former member of Smug Brothers has his third solo record, Outdoor Drama. One has to wonder if our current challenges shaped the titling of that album. Regardless, the songs on this lo-fi indie record brim with exciting possibilities. None more prefect than ‘The Wheels Are in Motion.’ Part- Guided by Voices, part-noise rock vehicle, ‘Wheel’ has a driving syncopation that calls for head movement. The vocals are downplayed against drums, guitar, bass and elliptical noise that draws one in the gravity of its pull. This driving catchy tune invites the listener to sway along with the build of the song until it reaches a point where the repeated title reveals an almost Beatlesque interlude that delivers the listener into static. Not the path you were expecting but satisfying even more because of that fact.
One that got away from us… yeah we know it was not released in April but this song has to be heard!
No One Sphere – Pictures in My Room (self-released)
On the band’s debut record, the Washington, D.C. music project of Dave Mann (Mittenfields) create an indie power pop perfection. A perfect blend of bass, drums, guitar – courtesy of Jarrett Nicolay – and Mann’s voice, this song will remind you of many other pop songs without sounding derivative or forced. Mann’s delivery is passionate without feeling awkward. Sometimes the whisper is more evocative and powerful than the loudest scream. The song starts with a guitar flourish that reveals an indie pop juggernaut. The lyrics capture something universal to all forms of human connection: “if it’s too much to ask, I don’t want to see you gone, tell me if I’m wrong, then so long.” How many relationships, friendships, people that we used to know are abstractions to us later no matter how much we thought we cared for them in the past? ‘Pictures in My Room’ holds on to those abstractions and requires us to ask if this is all we are to one another and nothing more. This song creates a moment of reflection confronts the listener with what they are willing to relegate to just fading pictures and the pieces of memory. Highly recommend giving this song and this project some much needed attention.