• Courtney Barnett

    Q&A: Courtney Barnett on Touring America, Snow, and Her Favorite 'Sex and the City' Character

    The Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett is 26 years old and has just seen snow falling for the first time: "Looking out of the car window, and it's actually snowing, like in the movies — it's a pretty romantic thing." She pauses in reverie, then snaps back. "Of course, the next day we were driving, and the snow was all brown-black, and the cars were dirty, and you're thinking, Snow is so unromantic. So I wrote about that in my notebook. A little poem: 'Snow is dirty and unromantic,' or something."The dichotomy — between the beauty of falling snow and the ugliness of how it settles on a city the next day — seems like a Barnettian concept: sweetness debauched by day-to-day reality. But for her, this is more comedy than tragedy.

  • Haim / Photo by Jesse Lirola for SPIN

    Haim's 'Days Are Gone' Is a Canny, Calculated Burst of '80s Art-Pop Perfection

    Haim are a band of three sisters from Los Angeles who make cool, wholesome pop-rock that sounds like something you might've heard on the radio in the mid or late 1980s — or, crucially, what you imagine you might've heard: breathy vocals, puckish synths, stiff but danceable rhythms, and reverb that smolders in the mix like dry ice. Despite only having released four songs, they've been profiled in publications as inclusive as Teen Vogue and as aggressively hip as The Fader between tours with Mumford & Sons, Florence and the Machine, Vampire Weekend, and other bands that artists several albums into their careers would be thrilled to open for once.Their debut, Days Are Gone, is one of the most ruthlessly proficient pieces of music to come out this year.

  • No Age / Photo by Erik Voake

    No Age's 'An Object' Proves Art-Damage Austerity Has Its Limits

    No Age always seemed like a punk band for people ambivalent about punk. Born of a Los Angeles community whose Venn diagram included skate shops, art galleries, and all-ages venues, their first five EPs (collected on 2007's Weirdo Rippers) turned a style known for its Spartan directness into something fragmented and abstract. An early No Age song might start with a man shouting over the thud of tom-toms and end with layers of carefully sculpted noise fizzing across the mix like ocean spray — a sleight of hand that made punk's inward aggression seem oblique, almost meditative.Hopeful critics described the duo's style as "ambient punk," because they seemed as interested in sound as they did in songs. Their lyrics did not make conventional sense, at least not in the context of a tradition marked by questions like, "Parents / Why won't they shut up?" Presentation didn't hurt.

  • Vampire Weekend / Photo by Matt Ellis

    Vampire Weekend, 'Modern Vampires of the City' (XL)

    Halfway through Vampire Weekend's third album, on a hushed, mysterious song called "Hannah Hunt," someone takes a lonely walk from an off-season beach house into town to buy kindling while his partner stays behind and tears up a copy of the New York Times, section by section. Week in Review. Arts & Leisure. Stories of real-estate woe facing the same class of well-bred Americans that Vampire Weekend have always skeptically counted themselves a part of: confetti on a cold, cold floor.Whether Hannah tears up the paper for the fire, or because she's angry about something she doesn't yet know how to express, is irrelevant: Since when do people in Vampire Weekend songs rip up anything with their bare hands? And who in this band actually knows how to build a fire?

  • Kurt Vile / Photo by Michael Flores

    Kurt Vile, 'Wakin on a Pretty Daze' (Matador)

    Ask any teenager: The first step to being cool is to stop trying to be cool. Or, in the starkly uncool terms of author Malcom Gladwell, "Cool cannot be manufactured, only observed." So observe it in Kurt Vile, a former forklift driver from Philadelphia who records atmospheric '70s rock as comforting and off-the-cuff as a yawn. In plain English he sings about his thoughts, his worries, his late-night walks through an empty city, his life. "I guess" is a phrase you hear a lot in his songs, which don't seem to start as much as wake up in the middle of themselves, grinning.Does he sweat as he rocks? Does his pulse ever quicken? To these questions, a new song called "Was All Talk" offers some kind of answer: "Making music is easy." Then, against a brisk drum-machine beat and ebb tide of guitar that dissolves beautifully into mist, he whispers, "Watch me."Of course, making music is not easy.

  • Waxahatchee

    Waxahatchee, 'Cerulean Salt' (Don Giovanni)

    In rap, the convention is to overstate your strengths: "Welcome, ladies and gentlemen," Jay-Z preened in 2001, "to the eighth wonder of the world." In indie rock, the convention is to overstate your weaknesses. "And in the darkened underpass, I thought, 'Oh god, my chance has come at last,'" Morrissey moaned in 1986. "But then a strange fear gripped me and I just couldn't ask."Strange fears are always gripping people in indie-rock songs, the most iconic of which — whether by the Smiths, Liz Phair, Belle & Sebastian, or Radiohead — portray their singers as supersensitive people who are willing to publicly confess feelings that most of us would rather not acknowledge, even in private. In their weakness, we see our own, only rendered with more coherence and less actual weeping. This, in turn, makes us feel a little better.

  • Mount Moriah, 'Miracle Temple' (Merge)

    Like a lot of bands from the American South, Durham, North Carolina's Mount Moriah sound voluntarily haunted by tradition. Their style is as traceable to Lynyrd Skynyrd as to Lucinda Williams, Southern artists who built careers by contradicting as many myths about where they came from as they embraced. Guitarist Jenks Miller recycles scraps from the Allmans’ playbook without the Allmans' tumescent showmanship, and singer Heather McEntire sounds like nobody if not Dolly Parton, in whose tough yodels you can hear one of country music's central paradoxes: showing how hurt you are by talking about how you'll never ever get hurt again.Despite their affiliation with Merge Records — home to Arcade Fire, Neutral Milk Hotel, Spoon, and a handful of other popular indie-rock bands — there is nothing indie-sounding about Mount Moriah.

  • Thom Yorke's Atoms for Peace / Photo via EXIT festival

    Atoms for Peace, 'Amok' (XL)

    Let us begin with praise for the man known to the government as Michael Peter Balzary, but to his fans and the general public simply as Flea, bassist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, one of the most unfairly shit-upon pop-rock groups of our time. Flea, the Los Angeles outcast who studied jazz trumpet at USC before stumbling into a band famous for songs like "Party on Your Pussy." Flea, the man whose playing is nimble and melodic enough to whistle, but strong enough to hold up the songs of his main band like steel suspension cables.

  • Christopher Owens

    Christopher Owens, 'Lysandre' (Fat Possum)

    Last July, Chris Owens — the boyish, melancholic singer-songwriter behind indie-rock band Girls — announced he was going solo. Well, what he announced was that he was leaving Girls, as though Girls could somehow go on without him, which he knew was absurd. He's a classic narcissist that way: as self-obsessed as he is self-effacing, the kind of writer who not only feels comfortable admitting his own vulnerabilities, but seems incapable of talking about anything else.His songs aren't just open, they're embarrassing — to him, to the characters he inhabits, and to the listeners who silently identify with them. "Alex has a band," he mumbled dreamily on Girls' 2010 album Father, Son, Holy Ghost. "So who cares about war? / If somebody somewhere dies, well, who cares?" Owens, a proud reader of books, has probably heard F.

  • Lindstrom, 'Smalhans' (Feedelity/Smalltown Supersound)

    In February, Norwegian disco prince Lindstrøm released a wild and busy record called Six Cups of Rebel: "On this album I've gone further out than before," he said in an interview, then added, in his polite, Norwegian way, "But I'm not sure that's for the best." Now, nine months later, comes Smalhans, a half-hour-long project made in about a month using Logic presets, takes its title from the Norwegian word for "poverty," and names each of its tracks after dishes Lindstrom described to SPIN as "really cheap to make." The idea is almost exhaustingly clear: After the excesses of Six Cups, he wants to be basic.Still, Smalhans, like all his best music, evokes a particular kind of luxury: distant stars twinkling in a dark-purple sky, hot pursuits featuring unsafe cars with gull-wing doors. His melodies continue to be lithe and spidery.

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