ON AN ON - Give In

Chicago-based Scattered Trees gained slight notoriety at the end of the last decade, and released a mediocre LP on EMI in 2011, before breaking up the next year when the two main songwriting brothers chose to leave. The rest of the band chose to carry on, but with this new name. Their full-length, "Give In," was self-released at the beginning of the year and showed quite a departure from Scattered Trees. In fact, it's really the only legacy of having been in that band that brings up its mention at all. I hope that these initial write-ups mentioning their past end the need to mention it at all. ON AN ON is its own thing and has, in just a few months, created something much better than they were doing before. The album starts out very, very strong but becomes a bit boring as it approaches the end. Those first tracks though are well worth the purchase though. This is one of those bands where they're doing such good yet palatable music, that I don't know why they're not more well-known than they are now. I only found them through the Midpoint Music Festival, where I caught just part of their set, as they played later on in the evening and were opposite a couple of bands that I really wanted to see. They had a very good crowd though. The first two tracks are from "Give In," while the last is a track they put up in late August that is quite a bit different from the others.

Local Natives - Hummingbird

When there are anticipated releases like this early in the year, it's often hard to fathom that they were not from the previous year. Since "Hummingbird" came out in January, I've seen the band twice - once in Covington, KY and once in Columbus, OH opening for The National - and have had quite a bit of time to process the album. Comparing the debut and this sophomore release, this one sounds much more mature and refined. Two things changed on this album: one of the members left for unspecified reasons, and the band moved into the home of Aaron Dessner, guitarist for The National, who produced this album. This release shows off the potential band. Gone are the goofy songs and uninspired lyrics that brought down "Guerilla Manor," and replacing it are genuine tracks that allow the individual vocalists to be heard. Because they're all good singers, but it's often lost in the elaborate harmonies that they've favored in the past.

STRFKR - Miracle Mile

STRFKR (pronounced and sometimes written as "star fucker") have, for years, produced the sort of light-hearted electro-pop that is good for hipster dancing, but not so much for actual listening. The songs all sounded generally the same, and it was hard to take any of it too seriously. I never owned a STRFKR album until I heard some of "Miracle Mile" and was prompted to go out and get it immediately. Although the goofy hooks and party songs are still present, it only goes up to the first third album. Then we get "Isea," which could have been a quick, 20-second interlude, but is, instead, spread out to almost a minute with a vocal line and then goes seamlessly into the next track which, again, could be a quick track to showcase the simple hook, but it's instead drawn out. The hook even drops out and a real song emerges. And then begins the more introspective and surprising part of the album, culminating with the beautiful "Golden Light" and the long, psychadelic closer, "Nite Rite."
You can stream the album in its entirety on the band's Soundcloud page.

Ings - Dog Physics EP

Originally Plaid Dragon, then briefly Inge (the first name of the lead singer, who looks like she's 14) until it was changed over concerns of its similarity to the global bank ING, and now Ings, I first listened to her in preparation for this year's Midpoint Music Festival in Cincinnati, where she played to about 10 people. If anything, I was really happy to see something really good come out of Springfield, Missouri. I spent a day there last November, on the way back to Indiana from Houston, and found a really thriving creative scene. The growing state university may be mostly due the credit for it, but it seems like it's one of those down-trodden cities where there's just lots of room to grow. Ings seems (seem?) to be finding quite a bit of success and has gotten quite a bit of attention toward the end of this year. With the right direction, I think there's some huge potential for the eventual LP. The EP is available for streaming and purchase on their Bandcamp site.

La Guerre - Violent

La Guerre (the alias of Lawrence, Kansas-based Katlyn Conroy) was relatively busy this year, with quite a bit of touring, some appearances (including SxSW and, where I first heard her, Daytrotter) and two releases. "Violent" is her first full-length; a light and somber 7-track release that showcases her vocal talents well. "The Three" EP came out in May, and is much more up-tempo, with real drums and quite a bit of backing vocal. The two releases are quite different, bringing up the idea that the months over the summer before the "Violent" release were not particularly good to her. All of her tracks can be streamed (but not purchased or downloaded) from her Bandcamp site. The track below is on "Violent," but is from her Daytrotter session, which came out in June. I just like this version better.

Junip - Junip

Swedish singer-songwriter Jose Gonzalez is possibly most famous for his 2007 cover of Massive Attack's "Teardrop" but only recently began collaborating with a full band, producing some often beautiful tracks. This self-titled release is the best yet, and "Line of Fire," somewhat of a single off the album, is very enjoyable.

Mark Mulcahy - Dear Mark J Mulcahy I Love You.

Proof that the indie rock graveyard can have zombies too, Mark Mulcahy's Miracle Legion broke up in 1996, leaving him bandless and, for the most part, album-less until he popped back up again this year with this release. Even looking past his age - a virtual senior citizen compared to most others on this list - the album comes off as a mature and thoughtful release. The track below is my favorite; fun but introspective.