In Brief: I’ve come to expect Tennis albums to be short and sweet, but this is the first time they’ve come up short even by that standard. What should be a tender and affecting meditation on a couple growing old together and being each other’s support system through various hardships, instead mostly drifts by without making much of an impact. Alaina Moore’s vocals are still quite lovely, and the duo still knows how to sustain a dreamy indie pop atmosphere… but the style feels a bit slight, given the substance that the songs are trying to convey.
In Brief: A charming debut that still stands out as some of Tennis’s best work almost a decade later. Though these ten surf rock songs with a bit of an indie/lo-fi aesthetic go wafting by like a gentle sea breeze in barely half an hour, this album is memorable for how it documents a sailing voyage that the married duo embarked upon. Even with the nostalgia filter decidedly on and the vocals at their most sweetly romantic, the sailing wasn’t always smooth, and I think that says something about how they both grew as individuals and as a couple.
Artist: SHEL Album: Wild Child EP Year: 2020 Grade: A
In Brief: These four sisters show impressive range on their latest EP, from their mellower folk, bluegrass and classical roots to a few unashamedly big and bright-colored pop tunes. Massive vocal hooks, a sense of playfulness, and an underlying sweet sincerity help to tie it all together, making this set of six songs one of the most beautiful and endearing things I’ve heard thus far in 2020.
If you’ve never heard of Gungor at all, and your first question upon hearing a song of theirs is, “Is this a Christian band?”, then my answer is: Yes. No. Kinda.
Normally in this monthly column, I’m going to be writing about bands that are defunct, or at the very least have stopped recording and touring for the foreseeable future. Gungor is a curious exception, because there are literally days to go in the band’s farewell tour. A week or so from when I publish this, Gungor as a distinct musical entity will be considered a thing of the past. Its two members, Michael and Lisa Gungor, certainly have plans to continue making music, just not under that name. I’m intrigued to see what these two might cook up with all past constraints and preconceived notions completely gone. I feel like they’ve already done a bang-up job of challenging our assumptions, not just about the kind of music they make but about the parameters that define the Christian faith ourselves, over the years. It seems like now’s as good a time as any to honor the end of an era, and take a (shorter than my usual) walk down memory lane to revisit my favorite songs that the duo have put out in the eight years I’ve considered myself a fan.
Artist: DeVotchKa Album: This Night Falls Forever Year: 2018 Grade: A-
In Brief: Ten songs after a seven-year absence might seem like a meager offering from most bands, but DeVotchKa ensures that their long-awaited return is an engrossing and intoxicating listen. The Latin rock influences may not be as pronounced this time around, but the strings, whistling, and other exotic bits of instrumentation all help to give this record an adventurous, otherworldly aura that isn’t easily forgotten. This Night Falls Forever can be a bit of an emotionally intense listen at first, but it’s definitely worth your time.
Deep into Katie Herzig‘s set at the Troubadour in West Hollywood last night, as she was playing an acoustic version of the fan favorite track “Hologram” by request, two odd realizations suddenly came to me:
Wow, this was the first Katie Herzig song I ever heard, and that was 10 frigging years ago.
Why wasn’t this song a huge hit?!?!?!
Now, there are a ton of more-or-less independent artists I follow who seem to have a strong cult following on the Internet, and who I could get salty about in terms of the mainstream pretty much ignoring them. But a lot of them make music that might not be “catchy” in the conventional sense, so I’m cool with it not being mainstream radio fare. Katie Herzig, though, seems to be the type of unabashedly poppy singer.songwriter who should have had a real shot at some hits back in the late 2000s. I probably only think that because I’ve always been super out-of-touch with what it takes to actually make music popular, but regardless: “Hologram” was a fun, upbeat, ridiculously catchy, self-effacing song about relationship failure that should have found a much larger audience.
Artist: Katie Herzig Album: Moment of Bliss Year: 2018 Grade: B+
In Brief: Another strong entry from Katie that deftly balances immediate, hook-driven, fun-loving pop singles with more intricate and unusual arrangements on some of the deep cuts. It’s not quite the home run that her previous two albums were, but it’s pretty darn close, and her message of self-determination and pride in one’s identity feels like it’s needed more now than ever.
Artist: Tennis Album: We Can Die Happy EP Year: 2017 Grade: A-
In Brief: A worthy companion piece to one of 2017’s most blissful indie pop records. There’s a slight bit more bounce to a few of these, but still, the band could have slipped any of them on to Yours Conditionally and they’d have been right at home.
Artist: Tennis Album: Yours Conditionally Year: 2017 Grade: B
In Brief: Tennis has a laid-back, breezy, sunny sort of indie pop style that feels like a less gloomy, more innocent Beach House. It’s an easy sound to fall in love with, though the lack of variance in tone and tempo can start to get repetitive toward the album’s end.
Artist: Gungor Album: One Wild Life: Body Year: 2016 Grade: B
In Brief: While Soul still has the highest concentration of my personal favorite songs from the One Wild Life trilogy, the sheer ambition of Body and the stylistic ground covered here is hard to ignore. It’s a brave, albeit imperfect and somewhat awkwardly paced, album from a band that continues to challenge the notion of what “Christian music” should be about.