Tracy Shedd = Anna Nalick + Missy Higgins
If this was playing in a room, you could leave for a few songs and not miss much. All 13 tracks are quiet vocals over strummy, uncomplicated acoustic guitar and vapid, romantic lyrics. Cat Power sets the bar pretty high in my mind for the genre of “chicks with guitars and pretty voices,” and while Shedd fits the criteria, her approach lacks any sort of edge or defining quality. “All the Little Things” features a male singer and sounds like something that gets played at Starbucks. Given that her cover of “Teenage Riot” by Sonic Youth is the coolest track of the album, I think that Shedd would have more success if she gave songwriting a break and stuck to covers. –Kia McGinnis
neither here nor there
Stop Karen = Kimya Dawson + The Head and the Heart + Beirut
Stop Karen’s neither here nor there is a succinct, six-track album that is cheerful and heartening, though not lacking in depth nor lyrical prowess. Upbeat ukulele is the musical focal point, woven into clear vocals that create a folk-grunge-pop feeling that lies somewhere in between twang, punk and ballad. neither here nor there is a genre-busting debut with a charming narrative.
Ukulele can easily cross into cheesy Jason Mraz territory, but Stop Karen use the instrument cleverly, allowing it to carry their tracks with an easy-breezy rhythm that leaves plenty of opportunity for harmonic sing-along/clap-along/whistle-along moments. Though there are five members in the band, it feels as though the tracks span a wider range of instrumentals, imprinting a sprawling musical effect. There’s a straightforward, witty, Courtney Barnett–esque approach to Stop Karen’s lyricism. In “Elephant,” a track that has an appropriate circus feel, Stop Karen sings, “She’d be happy in the closet if it weren’t for the skeletons.e
Opening track “good in white” explores existence, marriage and mortality under the guise of a “la, la, la” campfire song lilt. Stop Karen sing, “Hush little baby, don’t you cry / Nothing really happens when you die.” Though pointedly morbid, the lullaby ultimately ends on a bittersweet, shrugging note, adding, “You wouldn’t want to go to heaven anyway.” Perhaps there is a touch of ex-Mormon apathy bleeding through, or perhaps Stop Karen are working through the inevitable mortality crisis that comes with experiencing a death firsthand.
“here’s to the sluts,” the closing track, ends raucously with a heavier drum beat and faster pace. It’s a smirking anthem disowning proper, “ladylike” gender roles and encouraging such frowned-upon behavior as shaking your moneymaker. It makes for a triumphant end to a well-rounded local release. –Kia McGinnis
Florists = Kimya Dawson + Karen O & The Kids
Holdly has the power to take unassuming hostages and make them really feel something—whether it be nostalgia, heartache or unrequited love. Using uncomplicated lyrics, barely there harmonies and convincing yet comfortable melodies, Florists have created a safe place for listeners to land. There is a sense of childlike positivity in the words, although they are heavy at times. In “Cool and Refreshing,” they sing, “Think of me by the creek in cut off jeans / Thinking about something that has meaning to me.” This album is the softest shade of folk rock, with each of the tracks fading into each other with sweeping poignancy. Save this one for a rainy coffee shop afternoon and let it make your heart heavy in a good way. –Kia McGinnis
Snowbird = Seabear + Daughter
Snowbird is the soft and wintery duo comprised of instrumentalist Simon Raymonde of Cocteau Twins and vocalist Stephanie Dosen, a Chemical Brothers collaborator. Grand piano swirls around gauzy vocals, making you feel as though you are walking through untouched snow. “Porcelain” begins with darker composition that transitions into a gripping soprano melody while “All Wishes Are Ghosts” is more sanguine and fast-paced, and finishes with a beautiful string piece. Parts of moon are reminiscent of Feist’s Let It Die—possibly because Raymonde owns the Bella Union label that is Feist’s home. moon is aptly named, as this album has far-away, dreamy textures and wistful lyrics that speak to you even if you aren’t quite sure what the exact words are. –Kia McGinnis