listen to a new song from keep shelly in athens

if you haven’t heard already, sarah p. stepped away from her vocal duties in keep shelly in athens over the weekend, citing a desire to pursue other projects.  it’s a bummer of a piece of news to hear, and something sarah gave no indication of in her interview with dimestore saints last year, but there is a bittersweet silver lining.  in honor of her departure, keep shelly in athens has offered up “old time glory,” a new/old track, to stream and download via soundcloud.  you can check that out below.

keep shelly in athens will soldier on.  the band announced that they will continue with a new lead singer and guest collaborations, and that a new album can be expected later this year.  but for now, let’s take a moment and remember what a critical factor sarah p. was in establishing the band’s early success.

best of 2013: honorable mentions

in this segment, i present my annual list of albums that were pretty great, but that i couldn’t be bothered to rank.  2013 was an enormously great year for music, and i’m still reveling in that fact during the early hours of 2014.  the following handful of albums are presented in alphabetical order to save any clamoring; check them out.

keep shelly in athens – at homethe most striking aspect of at home was how dark and desolate the album was able to be.  front-loaded with infectious grooves like “oostende” and “flyway,” at home slows down with tracks like “madmen love” and “sails,” creating a truly polarizing album.  keep shelly in athens brought their a-game in 2013, and will continue to do so over the next year.

london grammar – if you waita super-arresting body of work from a trio of brits, if you wait is a sleeper album that has london grammar poised to break out in 2014.  hannah reid’s voice is nothing short of lush, and the instrumentation behind tracks like “stay awake” and “strong” recalls the winning downtempo formulas of the xx.  seriously, a band to watch.

radiator hospital – something wildsam cook-parrott writes music befitting for fans of waxahatchee and swearin’, understandable since he hangs out with the crutchfield sisters on the regular.  radiator hospital’s newest album is chock-full of lo-fi garage pop songs that are often insanely catchy and always incredibly well-written; “our song” will make you dance the first time you hear it and listen intently on subsequent spins.

washed out – paracosmernest greene’s second album as washed out is a lush exploration of organic sound.  after largely using electronic elements to create his 2011 debut within & without, greene stuck with a bevy of vintage keyboards and synthesizers on paracosm, resulting in a much more psychedelic texture.

best of 2013: songs

i’m upping the ante and treating you to my ten favorite songs of 2013, as opposed to last year’s five.  my choices don’t necessarily reflect contenders for album of the year, but don’t be surprised if some of the same names show up over the next couple of weeks.

10. oostende – keep shelly in athens: “oostende” was my first true glimpse at sarah p.’s vocal personality, which stretches from hesitant to confident within the duration of a verse and a chorus.  the synth pads are brooding throughout, but the lead line that kicks in three quarters of the way through the song routinely gets stuck in my head.  easily the best track off of the duo’s debut album at home, the power of “oostende” is only bolstered by an incredibly heart-wrenching music video.

 

9. collapse – vancouver sleep clinic: the second of just two tracks released by vancouver sleep clinic this year, “collapse” easily proves what tim bettinson is capable of doing with his voice.  retaining an incomprehensible aesthetic akin to bon iver, “collapse” evokes a frigid winter landscape that has already become relatable.  the production behind the vocals is also impressive, molding some james blake drum pads with soft-rock, folky guitars.  both vancouver sleep clinic songs have been firmly distinguishable so far, but “collapse” flexes the ensemble’s potential the most.

 

8. graceless – the national: trouble will find me still hasn’t fully settled in yet.  while the cohesive aspect of the album may be lacking, i know that “graceless” is probably one of the best songs the national have ever written.  there’s that underlying post-punk tone that harkens earlier tracks off of alligator and boxer, along with a truly anthemic final chorus.  the national is a band that ages well, and a sustained break from their earlier influences helped to add depth to that sound.

 

7. diamond mine – pillar point: i love a good mystery.  when i found pillar point through polyvinyl’s twitter page, the sheer absence of a biography or any sort of personal identity attached to the project made me appreciate the music that much more.  “diamond mine” is a chillwave standout that mixes a multitude of pulses, but that lead synth line is always an earworm, whether syncopated or straight in time.  the lyrics are a bit melancholy, juxtaposing the sunny, up-beat accompaniment, but that only adds to the overall sophistication of the songwriting here.

 

6. tennis court – lorde: i could talk about “royals,” but everyone talks about “royals.”  lorde stands for something that goes against the mainstream materialistic values and idolization of glamorous pop stars, but she’s also still a kid, barely out of high school and three years away from turning twenty.  that doesn’t detract from the fact that she’s very self-aware and intelligent; i think “tennis court” showcases this the best.  its lyrics are less about dissociating from material goods and more about defying social trends and chasing perfection.  “tennis court” is fairly autobiographical, highlighting lorde’s naivete in the music industry, but her skeptic tone suggests that she won’t buy into its extravagancies.  i guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

 

5. savage – majical cloudz: there’s a lot to be said about majical cloudz and their fantastic, under-the-radar year.  devon welsh’s voice is routinely haunting, pairing well with the minimalist compositions that define the aesthetic of the duo.  impersonator was an admirable record, but i was drawn to “savage,” a bonus track released just last month, more quickly than any song found on the album.  the ostinato keyboard part sets the tone for welsh’s lyrics, a fairly direct romantic narrative.  the first time i heard him break from his declamatory phrasing to croon “high on lsd with you,” i was sold, and i’ve felt the same tingling sensation every listen since.

 

4. summer skin – teen girl scientist monthly: someone likened teen girl scientist monthly to the pains of being pure at heart on steroids, a comparison that works especially well for “summer skin,” the opening track on their newest album modern dances.  the opening guitar line sells the song as an instant earworm of powerpop, but the gradual additions of keyboard textures and gang vocals find the brooklyn ensemble as an amalgamation of the answering machine and arcade fire.  “summer skin” is the kind of song you would wait around for hours to hear on the radio, but thankfully, you don’t have to do that.

 

3. comrade – volcano choir: “byegone” garnered understandable praise for volcano choir, with its anthemic folk rock feel reminiscent of bon iver’s sophomore album.  but “comrade” is the essence of what volcano choir has become: the marriage of collections of colonies of bees’ post-rock leanings and justin vernon’s vocal tendencies.  responsible solely for the lyrics and vocals on repave, vernon was in his element, generously modifying his voice to embellish the experimental aesthetic of the band.  the autotuned coda at the end of “comrade” makes the song and is gloriously powerful live; watch the video below for a frame of reference.

 

2. lungs – chvrches: any song off of the bones of what you believe could contend for a spot on this list.  chvrches was one of the most impressionable bands of 2013, seamlessly blending pop hooks with indie sensibility and dance floor beats.  “lungs” is buried deep within the album and is a syncopated gem; lauren mayberry’s voice is subtly doubled with a vocoder, adding a harsh undertone to an otherwise crystal clear timbre, but it’s the quarter note-triplet pattern fed through a filthy bass synthesizer that defines this song.  friends of mine who almost exclusively listen to electronic dance music appreciate chvrches due to this song, further showcasing the band’s accessibility across a wide variety of genres.  “lungs” is on par with every single released off of the bones of what you believe, and is probably better than some of them.

 

1. boat rich – dads: it didn’t take long before “boat rich” was my most-played song of 2013.  clocking in at under three minutes helps, but the fact is that the guitar work is too catchy to not listen to on repeat.  dads started to receive some national attention this year with the resurgence of emo, but the new jersey duo are just as likely to throw a quick meter change into a song as they are to wear their hearts on their sleeves.  the chorus of “boat rich” is anthemic in nature and each repetition builds, culminating in a climax following a triplet-based interlude.  check out dads’ pretty good ep if you haven’t already, and keep your eye out for more material in 2014.  i know i will.

 

interview – keep shelly in athens

i’ve been watching grecian duo keep shelly in athens like a hawk for quite some time now, eagerly waiting their debut full-length at home and eating it up upon its release.  things got even more exciting when frontwoman sarah p. agreed to take time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions via email.  she shed some light on the incredibly simple ethos of the band, as well as some insight into the bevy of emotions found across at home and her impression of the recent turmoil in greece.  check out the transcript below.

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keep shelly in athens got a lot of early exposure online, especially on sites over here like gorilla vs. bear.  now that you’ve been working with a record label not attached the the blogosphere, do you notice any changes in how you approach making music and its dissemination?

not at all.  we are always the same two who are making music.  of course, we feel that we have evolved our sound in comparison to the early stuff, and i think that is best for every band – to unfold and develop.  definitely the support of our label it is really important.  we have got a really nice team around us that is helping a lot, that is true, but that did not bring any changes in our songwriting.

the intimacy created on at home is quite remarkable, especially for a duo operating within a genre largely defined by solo acts.  what’s your approach to songwriting?

we make the music that we love.  that is from where it all starts in the first place.  whenever we sit down to write songs, we do not know what we will come up in the end.  the idea it is to express yourself, no matter what.  is not that keep shelly in athens are musicians who studied in colleges about music; we are empirical musicians, driven by our instincts.  that is probably why our music is kind of layered and most of the times sounds a little weird, blending together all those influences we have.

 

as i mentioned in my review of at home, the songs at the beginning of the album decidedly upbeat in comparison to some of the downtempo explorations later on.  was this shift in mood consciously sparked by anything?

the whole album has this roller coaster mood.  you get high, then you know you’ll get down.  no matter what, it happens.  it is the atmosphere we wanted to build; it is that feeling we were exploring; it is all about emotions.  when you are experiencing something intensely, you have already made sure you’ll feel its opposite.  you cannot help it.

have the recent political and social events in greece impacted your work at all?

we might be spotlighted all the time by the media, but spotlights fade out and we are the only ones left around, experiencing the harsh results of this crisis, socially and politically.  with a flimsy society, not a stable foundation, greece at the moment seems to have a quicksand under her feet.  this affects the whole lifestyle, and definitely our work.  both at the creative process and at the “how to make that happen” question.

and remember, it is not just greece.  it is not just greece who appears as the black ship.

“flyway,” for example, is about all this.  the personal strife of every single person, who has to run after it all, to compete, to reach the other ones who are quicker than he is.  he might have lost his faith, he might feel weak, but he still has to fight, or else he will be left behind.  and that is not a good deal, not a good deal at all.

speaking of greece, that’s not a country you hear a lot of music coming out of, at least on an international level.  what’s the inside scoop on the athens music scene?

greek artists seem to be quite inventive lately, they seem to want to be heard outside the country.  this crisis of ours – financial, social, political – has changed our minds and we raised our voices somehow, we were determined that we will stand up tall.  it is true that greek artists are more active than ever, and we team up.  recently, i wrote lyrics and sang for the plastic flowers, a band you should definitely check out.

 

what are you listening to as of late that constitutes more of a guilty pleasure than anything else?

i have no guilty pleasures, to be honest.  i am listening to it all; if i like something, i do not feel ashamed about liking it.  that’s a principle in my life.  it always depends on the mood you are in.

i see that you’ve got a good-sized north american tour slated for october.  what aspect of touring are you looking forward to the most?

we have been missing touring around.  it has been a while since we have last been on the road.  plus, what changed this time is that we have the support of our label, cascine.  rearrangements, new team, new songs, probably new people coming to our shows.  probably, hopefully.  it will be a new experience for everybody.  so i cannot wait for it all; i want to experience and enjoy every single moment.

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you’ll be able to check out keep shelly in athens next month when they hit north america for a string of tour dates; the full list is here.  at home is a fantastic record that you should definitely spin sometime if you haven’t yet gotten the chance, and a band this prolific is bound to churn out something really good again in the near future.  i can’t wait.

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keep shelly in athens – at home

grecian duo keep shelly in athens perhaps represent the gold standard of electronic bands that are able to make meaningful pop music in a post-chillwave era.  after forming in 2010 and releasing a string of eps and singles through forest family, the vinyl imprint of gorilla vs. bear, the two hopped on cascine records to cut their debut full-length, which is far more dark and atmospheric than i had expected.

it’s important to talk about “oostende,” the second single off of at home and one of my favorite tracks from this summer, but it’s pointless to dwell on it.  anyone searching for chillwave replications will quickly find out that this song is a misnomer; at the very best, “oostende” is a reference point for faithful listeners, reiterating what keep shelly in athens have built up to this point but using it to jump off into the next realm of musical exploration.  the subsequent three tracks send the duo descending into the downtempo realm, arriving on “madmen love” and “stay away,” a pair of songs that are just plain heavy.  sarah p’s vocals are as ethereal as one would have come to expect, but the production is notably more dense than earlier, hazy tracks like “recollection.”

keep shelly in athens continue to flirt with these two permutations of electronic music so expertly that sharp left turns, like the brief, gritty “knife” catch both active and passive listeners by surprise, but the duo is simply at their best on dreamy, downtempo numbers like “sails.”  a simple synth pad coupled with precise drum hits floats underneath the texture for most of the album’s deep cut, before giving way to a gorgeous cacophony that details the band’s paramount understanding of how chaos and harmony should complement one another.

at home is one of the few albums i’ve heard this year that absolutely demands the listener’s full attention.  while the songs lack measurable pop hooks, they make up for it with sheer intensity and sharp attention to detail.  i’d be remiss if i didn’t recommend this record.

7.8/10