The Dangerous Summer, "Catholic Girls"
So, I guess kids who bought How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb and Separation Sunday in high school are now writing songs that I like. The lyrics to "Catholic Girls" are indecipherable — as far as I can tell, singer A.J. Perdomo really, really wants "some companaaay," presumably from New Testament–quoting females. Beyond that, "Catholic Girls" derives all meaning from the holy spirit of the Edge’s guitar sound. I like "Catholic Girls" so much that I don’t even mind that the Dangerous Summer went ahead and rewrote it nine times for its highly enjoyable just-released LP, Golden Record. Some feelings (and riffs) are too tall and wide to fit comfortably on just one song.
The Wonder Years, "The Devil in My Bloodstream"
Like my pal and colleague Ian Cohen, I’ve fallen hard for the Wonder Years’ The Greatest Generation, the tear-jerkiest squeaky-clean pop-punk record you’ll hear all year. A concept album about being in your late twenties and stuck in a small town and feeling like you should move on even though you have no particular place to go, The Greatest Generation is basically a snapshot of my life from 10 years ago, so excuse me if I get a little emo here. Because, yeah, I was once like singer Dan "Soupy" Campbell in "The Devil in My Bloodstream" — I equated whatever drudgery was going on in my life at the time (for him it’s touring, for me it was trying fruitlessly to forge a career in daily newspapers) with life and death, love and war, and even wiping out the freaking buffalo, for chrissakes. I was prone to melodramatic statements like "I know how it feels to be at war with a world that never loved me." I was that guy — I’m embarrassed by that guy now, but the Greatest Generation reminds me that I must own being him once. I love this record because it’s honest about what it’s really like to be at your weakest — Campbell is alienated, he’s frustrated, he’s pathetic, and he doesn’t make any of it sound cool or romantic, only authentically vulnerable. Well, and also absurdly shiny and ridiculously catchy: "The Devil in My Bloodstream" opens as an introspective piano ballad, but it soon turns into the album’s most spectacular Vans-sponsored fireworks show, with a melody that traces back (intentionally or not) to another anthem of unsteady individualism, Katy Perry’s "Firework."
Crash of Rhinos, "Opener"
A sea of '90s emo-inspired bands has percolated just below the surface of mainstream rock since the late ’00s. This remarkably Midwestern-sounding U.K. band is among the groups poised to break through to a wider audience when its excellent second record, Knots, comes out later this month. If every young and successful rock band sounds like this in a year, I won't be surprised.
Alela Diane, "Before the Leaving"
The saddest song from the summer’s saddest album, Alela Diane’s "Before the Leaving" is about a breakup unfolding in slow motion, as breakups are prone to do. Like the rest of About Farewell, "Leaving" is inspired by Diane’s divorce from a former bandmate, and it’s a kind of travelogue about the disintegration of their relationship on tour. It’s only two minutes and 56 seconds, but the time it lingers has no expiration date.
Kings of Leon, "Wait for Me"
Liking Kings of Leon would be so much easier if they were as good at naming things as they are at writing big, dumb rock songs that are ideal for soundtracking backyard barbecues. "Wait for Me" at least has a modest moniker and a prom-ready melody, and it definitely increases my interest in hearing KOL’s forthcoming album, Mechanical Bull [shudder].
Lord Dying, "In a Frightful State of Gnawed Dismemberment"
Now here’s a band that has absolutely no problem with naming things.
The Civil Wars, "I Had Me a Girl"
This Grammy-minted and best-selling guy-gal country duo apparently has turned into a real-life version of the ABC prime-time soap Nashville. The Civil Wars actually broke up for a spell last year, before cooler business-minded heads prevailed. But Joy Williams and John Paul White (who insist they’re strictly on Lindsey and Christine terms, and not Lindsey and Stevie) still aren’t talking to each other, which is fine by me so long as the results are as smoldering as "I Had Me a Girl." "I had me a girl / Like cigarette smoke / She came and she went," he says. "I slipped through his hands / To my back door man / Under his chin," she says. The Civil Wars have a tendency to get a little sleepy on their new self-titled record, but "I Had Me a Girl" is sweaty (metaphorical) hate-sex.
Washed Out, "Don’t Give Up"
Washed Out’s forthcoming Paracosm is being marketed as a Southern-tinged "country boy" record, which tells you more about the current state of chillwave than it does about the album. The blurpy, smudged nostalgia indie pop that Washed Out’s Ernest Greene helped to invent is already a couple of indie trends past passÚ. But Greene still does this specific thing better than anyone.
Revocation, "Numbing Agents"
If chillwave is the dorkiest dorky genre name, "technical death metal" is the coolest dorky genre name. This song is a fine example of the form — it sounds like brain surgery as performed by a laser-pointed table saw.
Willie Nelson and Neil Young, "Long May You Run"
Your friendly reminder to kiss your spouse, call your mom, etc.