Billy is not a music critic. (Hell, he can't even hear the Springsteen influences in a Gaslight Anthem album.) But he does love music, and we have a dozen or so bands and artists sending free music our way every month. No sane music-lover likes turning away free music! So on occasional Sunday, he's going to offer my thoughts and recommendations on the better stuff we get sent to us. This isn't American Idol, so he's not gonna go all Simon on any of the stuff that sucks. (And let's be honest -- we've received some bona fide stinkers that you'll never hear.)
So, with that in mind, here's the first official installment of New Music on the Bottom.
I Am a Ghost - Blind Rhetoric (mp3)
Blind Rhetoric only sent me two songs, and it's tricky to judge a band on a single album*, much less just a song or two, but here's my take. Nothing about these two songs made me think this band is trying to blaze a new trail of sound. Still, they've got some power in that pop, and if it's derivative, then they're deriving it from a place I enjoy visiting. If I stumbled into one of their concerts, I'm sure I'd stick around and enjoy myself plenty. These songs are tightly-produced -- which for me is a good thing but can annoy more finely-trained folks. Their lead singer has a honey-sweet voice capable of packing a punch, although it doesn't have a particularly unique signature to it. Then again, a band shouldn't need singularity of Axl Rose or Elvis Costello to kick some rock butt.
* -- If we judged artists on a single album, then according to Bob, Bruce Springsteen would f*#king suck.
Cigarette - Gas Station Robber (mp3)
Their sound is definitely on the melancholy electronic tip. Neither of those descriptors would be words that draw me in, normally, since I tend to prefer my sad whiners be folksier or with a little more rock bombast. But something about their sound is worth paying heed. They call their sound "electroacoustic," and who am I to argue? The song I've included, "Cigarette," is the least electronic and most acoustic of the songs they sent us, so naturally that's the one I find most mesmerizing, but none of the five songs they sent had me holding my nose or praying for it to end.
More to the point for you, dear readers: They are all about sharing their music in DRM formats without asking for anything but donations. While it's possible they're as financially secure as Radiohead, I highly doubt it, so if you like what you hear, maybe you'll consider tossing a few bucks their way.
Oblivion - Wintersleep (mp3)
Don't ask me to defend my connections with this band, but when I hear Wintersleep, I think Arcade Fire. I think Weakerthans. I think a hint of Coldplay and a dash of the Eels. Maybe even the haunted spirit of the Mountain Goats. Except Wintersleep feels like it has a little more country and roots rock in them than these other bands. But again, I'm totally spitballing here. The key factor in all of those comparisons is that I either really like or mostly like all of the bands I just mentioned. They're all a little bit avant garde, and other than Coldplay they only hit the "pop" category infrequently and seemingly by accident.
Wintersleep are legit. "Oblivion" is their catchiest and most pop-friendly song, but a few others lean in that direction. "Astronaut" could have been performed by one of those many '80s bands from Athens, and "Weighty Ghost" deserves consideration on any college radio station worth its salt. The concluding 8-minute-plus number, "Mismal Smoke + The Yellow Bellied Freaks," might alone convince me to desert my family and obligations and see them live.
This band feels like an album band, with music better suited for a 40-minute investment rather than mixed in on your iPod's shuffle. Assuming the dudes don't secretly hate each other or dream of solo careers, I'd be stunned if this album is anything but a strong step up to bigger things.