Owls – Two

Polyvinyl, 2014

If you’ve forgotten what Owls sounds like in the 13 years since their debut LP, it won’t take you long to recall the charm of their abstract post-everything sound. Droning post-punk, mathy-rock, unusual time signatures and dynamic rhythms make this much like what we expect from this crew, though it’s often more direct musically and lyrically than some of their more known bands. The players here have done amazing things in their musical careers, and this one is near the top.

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Owen – L’Ami du Peuple

Polyvinyl, 2013

The most sparse and longest running venture in Mike Kinsella’s musical career, Owen’s seventh album continues his personal songs about self-analysis, parenthood and life approaching middle age. His breezy melodies, deft finger picking and heart wrenching singing is as spot on as ever, while the music is more diverse with one of his loudest songs yet and several piano focused moments. As vital as anything Kinsellas has done, and as great a place to start as anywhere if you’re a first time listener.

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Black Dirty – Dirty Water EP

Self-released, 2013

Four tracks of shimmering math-pop from the Philadelphia quartet, who prove to be pretty much the polar opposite of their name. The guitars are clean, bright, and serve as both focus and highlight, the melodies buoyantly bobbing about in a Maps & Atlases kind of way, whilst breathy vocals unassumingly flit in and out. For a debut outing it’s an arresting display of innovative and intricate musicianship, and an absolute steal as a pay-what-you-like download.

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Rika – How To Draw A River, Step By Step

Count Your Lucky Stars / Goddamn Records, 2013

Dreamy, stripped-down, and invariably pleasant indie rock from the Austrian quartet. For the most part How To Draw A River, Step By Step sticks to its sedate pace and broodiness – in a navelgazing melancholic way – which suits the strong Midwest US twinkly emo influence (it’s no coincidence Rika ended up on CYLS Records). The addition of piano and organ helps power some emotive post-rock progressions and, along with a few more forceful vocal moments, brings welcome texture and direction to a record that might have otherwise become lost in its own tranquil meanderings.

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Castevet – The Echo & The Light

Castevet-The EchoTiny Engines, 2010

Chicago’s Castevet move above and beyond the (insert buzzword for outstanding debut bridging the gap between 90s Midwestern emo and early 2000s post-rock) of 2009’s Summer Fences with their recent Tiny Engines release The Echo & The Light. 8 tracks of blistering rhythms, gruff, aggressive vocals and jangly guitar, The Echo & The Light is chock full of accessible, unforgettable midseason jams. Check out track 4, “Lautrec,” for a taste of what is to come from the Illinois quartet.