Episodic, the third full length from Field Mouse, is what I usually group into the “crowdpleaser” genre of album, with me being the crowd. Because as much as I enjoy trying to key in on specific things I love in music and being hyper-critical about everything, at the end of the day, I’m pretty happy if a band delivers nice melodies, plays the guitars pretty loud, and has a good singer.
Field Mouse does all of that: they play a melodic, straight-forward amalgam of basically every style of 90s music, can get loud when they need to, and are led by Rachel Browne, a talented singer who makes their songs memorable with her clear, bright vocals. Nothing about Episodic is going to catch the listener by surprise, but part of its appeal is that it gets the fundamentals of this dreamy rock sound right, and sometimes I just want to listen to something that is really catchy and unpretentious.
This might come off as me damning Field Mouse with faint praise, but one of my takeaways from spending so much of this year on Bandcamp is that it’s much harder than I realized just to make music that is listenable, much less albums like Episodic that are nearly impossible to stop listening to.
Most year-end lists focus on albums that make broad, sweeping statements about culture in an attempt to sum up “2016 in music.” My lists always look different because I tend to dislike those albums. Instead, my favorites are like Free Cake For Every Creature’s Talking Quietly of Anything With You — small, intimate albums that carve out a little space for themselves and the listener without self-consciously trying to feel “important.”
Free Cake For Every Creature is the brainchild of Philadelphia singer-songwriter Katie Bennett, who comes from the Rose Melberg school of indie pop. Like Melberg’s first band, Tiger Trap, Talking Quietly of Anything With You has a lot of fuzzy pop songs about feelings and a youthful, energetic sound. It’s a style often reductively labeled as “twee,” but I have a soft spot for this style of indie pop, which (when done well) feels really genuine.
Bennett’s style of singing helps make the album feel more intimate; she sometimes approaches more of a whisper, like a friend who is telling you her secrets. Her sharp lyrics capture the feeling of being young and the whirlwind of feelings and experiences you have that you don’t necessarily understand yet. She’s also funny, and a lot of what made this album stand out for me was its warmth and optimism — Talking Quietly About Anything With You is kind of like a musical hug.
Balance is a fitting name for a Lorelle Meets the Obsolete album, as the duo from Mexico is all about juggling various psychedelic influences, dropping them in a pot, and brewing up a sound that is both original and familiar. When I listened to this album, I felt like I was watching a beloved old movie that I barely remembered, and all of my favorite parts were coming back to me. “Oh yeah, the My Bloody Valentine part! I love this part!” Repeat for Stereolab, The United States of America, etc.
Lorelle Meets the Obsolete uses that nostalgia and familiarity to its advantage. The opening title track starts as a normal-sounding rock song, but then has a seemingly random synth part that initially sounds out of place, then a loud guitar part that comes out of nowhere. The band does that a lot, mixing in different styles of music to surprise any listener who is expecting them to paint by numbers.
Balance starts out with that style of noisy rock, but evolves partway through with some surprisingly affecting, almost ambient pieces. “Father’s Tears” is a minimalist folk-inspired tune that sounds like something from Tender Buttons era Broadcast.”The Sound of All Things” is a spacey song with a motorik beat that builds on itself for over five minutes before fading out with an emotional coda — it’s the best example of how this band assembles memorable songs from recycled parts.