Small Black

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Small Black are a relatively-new 4-piece indie / chillwave group from Brooklyn. Signed to American powerhouse indie label Jagjaguwar, they’ve recently hit a terrific stride. When we were kids, my brothers and I would visit our grandma in a nearby town every so often. As it came time to leave, there was this ritual where she would get her old change purse and sneakily put a toonie in our palms when our parents “weren’t looking” (they were). One arbitrary day she reached into her purse and handed one of us a cheque for $1000. That’s the story of Small Black’s latest album, “Limits of Desire”.

With the endearing and humble beginnings of a simple 6-song self-titled debut EP and mediocre follow-up LP “New Chain”, they hatched an amazing piece of art in this year’s “Limits of Desire”. Floating amongst the clouds, these songs are driving, catchy, and charged with emotion, enveloping the listener into sonic honey. It’s the kind of music you want to listen to in your headphones, eyes closed, soaking it in. As long as you’re alone, that is. Otherwise it looks weird.

Favourite track: Limits of Desire (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vc-niqjcjQ8)… The lovechild of a pillow and a synthesizer.

Miniature Tigers

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Miniature Tigers are a 4-piece indie pop outfit based out of Phoenix since 2006. They’re tons-o-fun. With a fairly straight-forward approach to songwriting, they play to their strengths to blend light-hearted melodies and lead lines, dancy drums, groovy bass, a host of synth tones, and the refreshingly smooth voice of guitarist Charlie Brand. Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

The two albums of theirs I know well are 2010’s “F O R T R E S S” and 2012’s “Mia Pharaoh”. The former is a Morning Benders-esque dynamic and orchestrated diddley, and the latter a more synth / disco heavy effort. Both worth a listen. They have a few preceding EPs and a 2008 LP “Tell It To The Volcano” I have yet to investigate, but perhaps one of these days I’ll get around to it. Or maybe you could do the grunt work this time.

Favourite track: Sex on the Regular (http://www.jukebo.com/miniature-tigers/music-clip,sex-on-the-regular,qpl5k5.html)… PG-13 rated synth pop.

M83

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M83 is the solo project by French superstar Anthony Gonzalez. With a world class mastery of synthesizers of all shapes and sizes, as well as an unabashed passion for the expansive and epic, M83 is one of, if not the greatest indie-electronic artist of all time. I distinctly remember the day I heard M83 for the first time, watching Much Music’s “The Wedge”, a 1-hour special geared towards showcasing lesser known / up-and-coming artist. It was 2003 and a few singles from his second album “Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts” with DIY videos were being shown in between interview snippets of this handsome, respectable chap with a thick French accent. Despite having little to say off stage, in concert Gonzalez transforms from his soft-spoken, reserved self to a dead serious, fiery-eyed maestro. Demanding the listener’s undivided attention, M83’s capturing sound is the unbridled juxtaposition of heart-breaking melody lines atop 1000-tonne drum programming and power synths.

Releasing his killer self-titled 2001 debut and aforementioned 2003 masteriece as a duo with Nicolas Fromageau (which I guess translates as “Cheesewater”, now fronting his shoegaze project “Team Ghost”), Gonzalez has carried the flame solo for 4 colossal releases since then. His most magnificent album is 2005’s “Before the Dawn Heals Us”, boasting some of the hugest musical moments I’ve ever heard and featuring the standout hit “Teen Angst” – a holy grail of aptly-titled songs. Since then he’s kept chugging along with compilation album “Digital Shades Vol. 1”, pop break-out “Saturdays = Youth”, and his most recent, a crowd-pleasing double album “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming”. Being a nostalgic individual, I prefer his early works, but there is strength and grace throughout his entire catalog. Depending on your level of preference for vocally-driven music, the amount of singing is roughly inversely proportional to the age of the album.

Over the last decade, I’ve  immensely enjoyed watching Gonzalez grow as an writer, singer, and producer. Composing soundtracks for big-name movies such as “Oblivion”, guest writing with acts like Montreal-based Montag (who, by the way, has released noteworthy LPs “Alone, Not Alone” and “Phases”), offering nearly 20 remixes including one for Daft Punk’s “Tron: Legacy Reconfigured”, being featured in like every snowboard and skateboard movie from the last decade, hosting competitions for fans to create official music videos, and even holding a YouTube-based audition for a new touring member, there isn’t much territory Gonzalez hasn’t covered. I love this guy.

Favourite track: Teen Angst (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tMirdNSKbho)… I draw your attention particularly to the outro’s carpal tunnel-inducing drum fill.

The Middle East

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The Middle East were [sad face] an indie/folk band from Australia who bit the dust shortly after taking flight. Co-led by singer/songwriters  Jordan Ireland and Rohin Jones, they created some of the most heart-breaking, soothing, and emotionally drawing songs I’ve ever heard. Backed by an army of upwards of 8 talented touring musicians, they boasted an in-studio and live dynamic rarely achieved by acts in the indie world. Spanning snow-flake fragile finger picking acoustics with whispered melodies, to crashing, brawny orchestral climaxes with ear-piercing screaming convictions, The Middle East takes the listener for one hell of a ride. The band was unfortunately fraught with conflict, much of which was centered around differences in philosophical beliefs regarding becoming commercially-successful, as well as songwriting directional disagreement between Ireland and Jones. Indeed, their goodbye in 2011 was the finale to a short-lived comeback from hiatus just one year prior. Kind of like getting back together with that old lover, where the only thing that’s truly changed is the length of your hair.

In 2008, The Middle East released an LP entitled “The Recordings of the Middle East”, which is one of the more enjoyable and under-appreciated indie albums I’ve had the pleasure of hearing. 3 of the 8 tracks are in my top 25 most played list in iTunes, a prestigious and coveted honour granted only to the very best music has to offer. They re-released it the next year as an EP sans the last 3 tracks, but I have no idea why because it’s all amazing. The follow-up, 2011’s “I Want That You Are Always Happy” was apparently written after scrapping almost an entire album’s worth of recorded material, and it sounds about as much. Roughly half the tracks are worth a damn, a few of which are solid pieces, but as a whole it’s a quivering mass cowering in the shadows of their monstrous debut. A quick sweep online reveals that most critics disagree with me on that, but it’s all he-said-she-said anyways so take a crack at it and see what you think for yourself.

Favourite track: The Darkest Side (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bXaczP4-VTE)… they’ll make a believer of you yet.

Balam Acab

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Balam Acab is an electro project by Pennsylvanian Alec Koone. As hinted by his aquatically-themed art, he must have been raised by either mermaids, electric eels, or some other cave-dwelling sea creature to grow up making these tunes. Maybe a geoduck. With haunted apparition chamber vocals, waterlogged and sun-stricken beats, and field samples bequeathed by one of Poseidon’s illegitimate children, you’ll be well on your way to aquaphobia by the end of one listen.

Since 2010, Balam Acab has released the excellent EP “See Birds” and LP “Wander / Wonder”, some killer remixes of artists like Charlie XCX (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wXaTfyj1uFA) and Twin Sister (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bDRzC-PHykk), as well as a pile of other material available for free download (http://pitchfork.com/artists/28640-balam-acab/ and on his Soundcloud). He is reportedly working on a follow-up LP out hopefully sometime in 2014. I’ll be there.

Favourite track: Motion (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BLAkCpivZ_c)… the sounds a deep sea aquanaut would hear rolling into the sketchy suburbs of Atlantis.