True To These Times
If The Unicorns were still a band and made punk rock music they would be The Zookeepers. These guys are fascinated with what I like to call intense fun. The Zookeepers have the smart ADD, constantly changing pace and sounds, but doing so in a way that keeps the listener's ears perked without ever feeling like the band has lost control.
My favorite track off the EP, "GGG," takes me right back to being a Presidents of the United States of America fan back in the mid 90s. It's bizarre, playful, smart, catchy, and it feels like the band is having the time of their lives playing the tune. Every time I put The Zookeepers on I can't help but wish that more people would get into their releases, or hope that more bands with a similar aesthetic of focused carelessness. Above all, I hope the changing world of music never influences The Zookeepers; they sound like nobody else right now and I'm loving the unique fingerprints they leave on all their songs.
I fully expect the dive bar, southern feel, "recession rock" genre flood gates to explode in 2013, if it didn't already break open in 2012. Tons of bands will be ripping off Mumford & Sons, who themselves are already poorly ripping off a genre they're not that well-versed in. What will separate the great from the vapid for me in this genre will rely on talent and on having a voice as songwriters.
As of now, I can give thumbs up to two acts in this genre. The first is the wonderfully talented Alabama Shakes. The second is a newcomer to the scene: Houndmouth. The four-piece from New Albany, IN have had a whirlwind year after signing to Rough Trade with only three songs under their belt. Cynical music fans can lament how quickly Houndmouth has moved, but once you hear their tunes and see them live, rest assured, it's deserved. The 2012 self-titled EP is just enjoyable from start to finish with each tune conjuring up thoughts of a contemporary nod to The Band.
My hope with Houndmouth is that they experiment with their sound and separate themselves from their influences and peers not by coasting, but by chiseling out their own unique voice track after track. They have the talent, they have the label, and they have the growing fan base supporting them... 2013 could be a huge year for Houndmouth.
J. NOLAN & REESE JONES
This is easily my favorite hip-hop release of 2012. Newcomer J. Nolan's words just seem to spin and spin easily, each line dissolving perfectly into the next without ever using gimmicks to elevate his craft. The production from Reese Jones isn't the flashiest, but it checks off every box of criteria I look for in a hip-hop release. The EP's soft funk folds amazingly well into its contemporary beats, acting as the perfect backdrop for J. Nolan to coast his vocals to. Each song feels like a deep cut straight out of a 90s record bin.
The track "Tonight's The Night" immediately brought me back to my love for Tribe Called Quest. Sample horns, a vocal moan, and a beat that seems to skip and repeat itself all drive what I've been missing in hip-hop for most of the year - a laid back tune that also carries an emotional punch. It's easy to get lost in this five track EP. Most of the times I hit play, about 20 minutes later I'll find myself scrambling to hit play again and start the journey over and over.
Take a bucket of water and gently pour it in the section where the street and the sidewalk meet. Follow that water as it moves down the street in slow motion. That image is the visual I always get when listening to The Antlers. Their music is ever expansive, moving slowly but with a specific direction, and as it moves, the landscape seems to reshape and take on new meaning moment by moment.
If you're looking for a radical change from The Antlers, you won't find it on the Undersea EP. The songs exist in a world of their own, all of them boxed in nicely by the single release, but all the workings that make The Antlers one of the best contemporary bands are in play here, as with their previous releases. What has always impressed me with The Antlers is the way they never seem to rush a single moment. This kind of restraint allows them to focus on the awe of slow, subtle growth, rather than forcing flashy, easily-pinpointed musical moments. With the Undersea EP, The Antlers continue to move slowly down that metaphorical road. There are no big changes here - just a soft movement in the right direction picking up new pieces to decorate a near perfect discography.
CHEYENNE MARIE MIZE
We Don't Need
Typically an EP is used as a little taste of things to come. Rarely is an EP so well-rounded that it crafts the same sort of experience one can get from a full length album. With Cheyenne Marie Mize's "We Don't Need," the listener is given all possibilities of sound from a single artist. From past releases from Mize, I chalked her up to be a soft but emotionally powerful folk singer who lived within a single style. I always enjoyed her sound, so I never asked for anything more.
With "We Don't Need," Mize seamlessly guides the listener from one type of song to next, and it all adds up to the realization that Mize is one of the best songwriters we've currently got going. The album begins with "Wishing Well," a simple enough song that features only a drum and Mize's talented vocals. It's a nice start, but the listener doesn't fully get what Mize is doing on this EP until "Call Me Beautiful" clicks on. The mood shifts completely. We're greeted with an emotionally draining and depressing tune that shatters any happiness that "Wishing Well" might have brought forth. Draining, depressing, shattering... these all might seem like negative terms, but Mize successfully calls on these emotions to rattle the listener and shape her EP, an artist using everything on her palette.
The album continues its turns with "Going Under," a toe-tapping piano rag tune that swipes the mood once again. Then my favorite track, "Keep It," follows with a PJ Harvey strummed guitar and attacking vocals that display Mize in full control of her sound. The EP gets bolder still with the last two tracks "It Lingers" and the instrumental "Back Around." The pair of them together seem to show Mize shedding the opening wonderment of "Wishing Well." The statement is loud and clear from this EP: don't expect Mize to copy her sound over and over, don't tell her what to sound like, and screw your expectations. Instead, let go and let Mize perfectly craft an EP that accomplishes more of an emotional roller coaster then most artists can accomplish with a full length.