• By: Owen Maxwell

The Japanese House Straddle the Line of Indie and Pop as One Thing

PJ Harvey – I Inside the Old Year Dying (Dorset, England)

Relentless in her artistic vision on every record, PJ Harvey has crafted an album that feels born from a night in the woods on her latest record. While a subtle record more often than not, it’s a great example of an album that keeps showing more colours the deeper you get into each track. There’s a rustic charm underneath the bouncing charge that Harvey presents on “Lwonesome Tonight,” creating a kind of quiet whisper that moves along with her unforgettable howling. Harvey drops a sharp 2-minute stinger on “I Inside the Old Year Dying” with no wasted space, as each guitar brings its own violent edge to the party and the melodies dance with a spiritual high that seem far but cleverly bound to the gruffer instrumentation. “A Child’s Question, August” takes a slower approach, with Harvey taking a more mystical energy as she rises with the hums of feedback, effects and organs to become one with the entire sound at play. The subdued drive is shed early in “A Noiseless Noise,” as the wash of blown out guitars and wailing chants create this mix of newfound strength and menace in Harvey’s performance to create something powerfully dangerous.

Katie Cruel – Desert Valley Nights (Single) (Toronto)

Matching that exact desert sound of dust and a light echo, Katie Cruel transports us on her latest single. As a kind of journey song, Cruel’s storytelling finds her trying to find comfort against the hostile and testing life moving through a wilderness of sorts, with a more visual kind of writing to keep things a little less literal. There’s a palpable smoke to note on this track, whether it’s Cruel, the guitars or even the drums, creating an airy texture amongst the dour lines elsewhere. Dark, yet magical in its overall energy, Cruel’s song has that special quality that makes a song stay with you by doing what words simply can’t on their own.

Palehound – Eye on the Bat (Allston, MA)

El Kempner brings a kind of precision to their writing that takes a simple indie rock song to something personal and cutting every time. Through their newest album, Kempner holds nothing back, dropping track after track with a ferocity that knocks you back again and again. The emotional dissonance in “Independence Day” creates an instant tension on first listen, as you slowly feel Kempner lashing out in the music to create a song that goes from frustrated to satisfyingly letting it all out. Something about that vocal riff and sound on “The Clutch” grabs you instantly to let its grunge drive and sunny highs just hit you with a cathartic wave of warm guitars to match the ferocity of Kempner’s emotion on the track. The more stream-of-consciousness feeling of “Eye on the Bat” takes a minute to sink in, but that percussive hook that sets off each new section with oo’s is so addictive you could listen to the whole track just for that alone. Meanwhile, rather than releasing the tension with fire every time, “My Evil” opens each chorus with a different shade, going for a growl in one place, to shimmering keyboard lines and haunting harmonies, all resulting in a short but memorable listen.

Nubya Garcia – Lean In (Single) (London, England)  

Flourishing sax and a magnetic, shuffling beat set you off into a colourful world on Nubya Garcia’s new track. The whole frantic listen manages to sooth and excite all at once, with sax and keyboards trading solos, and each instrument getting layered in a way where a whole other voice on one collapses into itself. The drums remain chaotic but somehow grounded, tying the whole thing together with a freeing-yet-guiding hand, always there to steer things in the right direction. Nubya’s playing is unreal, and affectingly soulful so that every flying hook dazzles you.

The Japanese House In the End It Always Does (Buckinghamshire, England)

Really straddling the line of what we think of when we say indie and pop as one thing, The Japanese House finds a personal voice and detailed production on their record. With tracks that take you inside the world of Amber Bain’s emotion in a single moment with such rich sonic quality that it makes them tangible, Bain has a specific power in her music that feels like an audio microscope. The sound of “Touching Yourself” has an instant pop intoxication to it that’s hard to shake, and yet the mix of instrumentation and delivery here feels so unique to Bain in this space that it becomes an instant earworm track. The beauty in the melancholic, watery pianos of “Sad to Breathe” create a powerful base for the track’s driving second-half, as Bain crafts a lush a sonic experience that seems to be emulating that missing magic of their missing companion. There’s an upbeat-against-the-sadness energy to “Boyhood” that is constantly at odds between its sound and lyrical content, but this friction leaves you constantly gripped to Bain’s work as the song swirls with a rush of life and all its regrets. Even in the more straight approach of “Sunshine Baby,” there’s a depth to Bain’s singing and the production around it that submerse you in the weight of what she’s feeling in that moment.