Inspired by the spirit of the SIMGE 24 Hour Songwriting Challenge, I decided to review every single entry on last year’s compilation, giving myself only the length of the song to listen, reflect, and cohere my thoughts before moving on to the next track. I couldn’t pause, rewind, or skip ahead. If a song was two minutes, that’s how long I’d have to review it. And just like the idea that each of these artists only had 24 Hours to complete their contribution, you’re just going to have to take my word for it!
NOTE TO OUR READERS: After an exhaustive meeting with the board members on the hundredth floor of the YDKJ office tower, we’ve agreed this review should be split in two parts. Given this year’s staggering number of entries (fifty-eight!!!), we felt the decision would be to everyone’s benefit. Okay here goes…
- No Wine For Kittens – Catastrophes – The tune that will forever be known as “that one with Jon Stewart playing drums” far transcends its famous guest star. Emily and Justin Borneman (currently of the venerable Asbury Park band Dentist) reformed their old indie pop combo with Andy Bova producing and Rick Barry sliding back into the role of co-vocalist. The whole thing fits like a glove. But unlike past efforts, Justin’s fuzzy guitar goes clean this time, adding a modern shimmer to NWfK’s early 2010’s glow. Stewart’s turn on drums shouldn’t be overlooked as he provides a steady backbeat to hold it all together. And again, this excellent song was written, arranged, recorded, and produced in 24 hours 😉
- Lowlight – Kenosha – 80s synths and bubbling bass courtesy of Dana Sellers and Rey Rivera guide this wandering wonder of a song by New Jersey’s finest! Singer Renee Maskin sums up how I’ve always felt about Lowlight with the line “plain to see / hard to know.” I can’t wait to hear this song fleshed out in a live setting!
- Brian Erickson – Running After Me – The Paper Jets’ frontman leans on his considerable vocals to carry this wistful, feather-light tune across the finish line in fine fashion. Also, I just wrote about my own entry in the third person.
- Jamie Frey – Your Boyfriend – Frey, a member of No Ice, sings “I want to take you where the good things are,” on this tender back-porch love song. Love the harmonies at the end!
- Ben Pagano – Everyone’s Ghost – While I would love to hear this song fleshed out with a full-band, this entry sounds like it could have come off the back half of Adore, even dropping what feels like a Corgan-esque couplet “Our embers glow / for everyone’s ghost.” Guitars weave in and out of the mix as Pagano’s lovely, grounded piano-playing keep the song on track.
- Jackson Pines – Bay Ridge – “Bay Ridge” comes on the heels of this prolific Philadelphia folk duo’s Lost & Found EP and their Purgatory Road full-length (both issues in 2017). Gorgeous open-road imagery that feels – to use their words – “whittled from the past.” Few cultivate the feeling of warm, rustic nostalgia better than Jackson Pines.
- Firemaid – You Can’t Hurt Me Now – “I can’t wear flowers in my hair anymore” is how this song begins. From there, its burn – slow and deliberate – sinks its way into your head. Musically, Firemaid falls somewhere between Bjork and Talk Talk, building an entire universe of introspection around lyrics whose lines periodically jump out like a deer in front of a speeding car. “You’re far away, come find me,” isn’t a longing plea so much as it’s a dare. “You can’t hurt me now,” repeats over and over like a mantra, floating above a tornado of vocals. “While you try to make me less / I will be louder than this less” takes over for the titular refrain, building to a harmonic swell before the song comes back down, landing like a feather on the dirt. I don’t know who Firemaid is (are?) but if they continue to cultivate this blissfully dark sound, they’ve got a bright future!
- Little Person – The Wishing Well – Jazzy acoustic strums accompany the tight harmonies of twin brothers Max and and Nicky Weinback. The song evokes the tender introspection of Bridge Over Troubled Water era Simon and Garfunkel, complete with one brother’s slightly grounded tone and the other’s more airy affectation. After just 1:34, the song disappears. But this will be one I continuously come back to.
- Tony Appleseed – Poison Ivy – The bassist of Accidental Seabirds’ entry starts as a brooding ballad that unfolds like a multi-part suite. Mechanical drums give way to keyboard flourishes, a spacy freak out, dissonant sounds, a swirling chorus, and finally a classical ending. Vision and talent match perfectly and as a result, “Poison Ivy” never gets too cumbersome for its own good, instead showcasing Appleseed’s considerable talent to fine effect.
- Julian Fulton – The Spell – Multi-instrumentalist Fulton’s Beatle tendencies unfold throughout the song as moods shift from Lennon’s politicism to McCartney melodic bounce and back again. Fulton is like a one-man “Strawberry Fields” b/w “Penny Lane” and “The Spell” is the perfect showcase for those Beatle-sized ambitions.
- Yawnmower – It’s All Non-Stop – New Jersey’s best two-piece band with a song about an old shed whose frontman wears a giant curly wig returns with “It’s All Non-Stop,” the duo’s first offering since signing with Sniffling Indie Kids Records this past Summer. Yawnmower’s tride-and-true fuzzy formula works well here and like any garage rockers worth their salt, they live and die by the riff. Good thing for all of us that Yawnmower chooses the “live” option this time around.
- aBird – If I Was a Sound (24 Hr Demo) – Mint 400 band aBIRD turn in a vastly different entry than last year’s Bacharach/David acoustic number “Time.” Songwriter Adam Bird has put down acoustic guitar and drumsticks in favor of keyboards and synthpads. The result is a haunting space jam. Bird asks “If you love me, would you let me go?” as buzzy keyboards bubble up behind him. The highlight is the near a cappella “Did I or didn’t I” breakdown.
- Newfoundman – And Miles to Go Before I Sleep – Wow! What a nicely-produced song. Double-vocals and a swath of reverby guitars give “And Miles to Go…” a spacey, late-Summer vibe. Keep chasing out December, guys!
- Levy & the Oaks – Horrible Work Week – L&tO’s give us an all-too-relatable tune about shit bosses, swilling coffee at your desk, working that office job and wishing you were anywhere but where you are. Midway through, the song goes full No Depression as the character engineers his own termination and takes off for the promise of the road! It’s exciting, inspiring, and the type of daydream that keeps so many of us office-working musicians able to stomach the 9-5. Now get back to work!
- Sonofdov – Wolves on the Move – It sounds like “Wolves on the Move” was recorded in the same snow-surrounded shack that Justin Vernon made For Emma Forever Ago. High harmonies, acoustic strums, lots of reverb, and War On Drugs-courting lead vocals allow the song to amble along as the “come on / let love back into your heart” hangs in the air like some reassuring lullaby.
- Francie Moon – Gunna Find You –I have no idea what to make of this song! It’s part gypsy folk, part haunted druggy haze, with a section that sounds like how Mia Wallace must have felt when Vincent Vega plunged the adrenaline straight into her heart. One thing I do know is that Francie Moon continues to surprise and delight no matter what genre (or three) they’re experimenting with since few do it better and with more conviction. Can someone just make them famous, please?
- Static Sex – Live Lighter –Making imaginative use of drum samples, vocal manipulation, and various sound effects, Static Sex creates a joyful electrocoustic bedroom punk hybrid with “Live Lighter.” One of the more pleasant surprises of the entire compilation!
- Daimon Alexandrius – Conversation Pieces – Holy brown shag carpets, mustard-colored drapes, bright orange pants, and platform shoes, Adam West’s Batman! Daimon Alexandrius goes full psychedelic with flutes, xylophones, and Raga-tinged strings. Add a pinch of Robyn Hitchcock-esque vocals and you’ve one of the compilation’s sleeper favorites.
- Modern Crowds – No More Turning Back – Modern Crowds hand in a tune arguably better than last year’s excellent, “This Time.” Sky-high guitar/synth weaving, wistful melodies, and a bass plucked straight out of the LCD Soundsystem playbook positions Modern Crowds once again as top contenders for the best track on the whole dang compilation!
- Foxanne – Trying – As we wait with anticipation for the arrival of Foxanne’s EP, Halfling, Chelsea Gohd helps us keep the seat warm with the ethereal “Trying.” Lyrical descriptions of bloody hands and feet evoke religious imagery as Gohd proves that Foxanne are capable of setting a scene within a song like few others.
- Brook Pridemore – I Was Saved by Rock and Roll – “Don’t just make a living, make a life” is an age-old cliche, but Pridemore breathes new life into it by stripping the sentiment back to its bare essentials: For many of us, it all starts with an instrument, a song, and the guile to dream big dreams.
- Brian Rothenbeck – Sunday, USA, 2017 – One of our finest songwriters turns political by crafting a timely statement on white male privilege, Islamophobia, whataboutism, and disenfranchisement. “It’s not what you do, it’s what you believe,” a frustrated Brian sings over the insistent strum of his acoustic guitar. Once again, Rothenbeck nails it with his signature blend of empathy, storytelling, nuance, and just a pinch of vinegar.
- Beta Rat – Thoughts – Jaime Parker (Alpha Rabbit, Meeko Brando) teams up with Frank Lettieri Jr. and Mike Virok of The Paper Jets to craft what sounds like a dancey, pseudo-industrial soundtrack to the end of the world. Screaming lines like “All of life is suffering,” before whispering “all of this will change,” “Thoughts” becomes a dark reflection of self in a time where it seems like the rest of the world is falling apart around you. About halfway through, Virok turns the overdrive on and Parker let’s fly all her nervous tics before abruptly ending by declaring, “I am fine.” Please don’t be…at least not yet. I want to hear more!
- Beatrix Potter – Black Bouquet – “Can you see the ugly place that you are in?” asks singer Collin Adkinson before a spacey freakout. But it’s “Black Bouquet”’s gnarly rock stomp that keeps me pressing ‘repeat.’
- Mr. Huesos – The Summoning of Mr. Huesos – Mr. Bones has been summoned by the Gods of electronic drums, fuzzy guitars, and analogue synthesizers! I don’t know who/what this band is/are but they’ve managed to craft a dynamic and ethereal near-instrumental of erie intrigue.
- Homeless Apians – A Celebratory Song Celebrating the Life and Times of the Celebrated Piano That Represents Halloween – So THIS is what happened to the guest vocalist from Radiohead’s “Fitter Happier!”
- Rorschach – Bones Like an Eraser – With a production style that resemble the nebulous quality of the test their band is named after, Rorschach constructs a synth empire atop a simple two-chord loop. I’d like to think this is the kind of thing Talk Talk’s Mark Hollis has been up to for the past two decades.
- Beachfire – Driver – Beachfire adopts an American Football/Owen-like tone on “Drive.” Props to SIMGE Svengali Mike Mehalick for yet another well-done sequencing job as Beachfire’s guitar/reverb slow build works perfectly against Rorschach’s synth constructs. All told, Beachfire turn in a driving, sentimental mid-compilation highlight.
- Aura Blaze – Life (We All Get One) – “Life” comes out of the gate with a gypsy folk grandeur that echoes the solo work of The Hold Steady’s Franz Nicolay if he were produced by Jeff Lynne. String stabs, chugging guitars, and brick wall of harmonies give us a hint of baroque pop and lay the groundwork for a follow up to their excellent 2015 self-titled LP.
Stay tuned for Part II coming in a few weeks!
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