The Melodic Tonic ’18 December 12th edition shines the spotlight on storytelling guitarists. From the indie folk-comedy stylings of Flight of the Conchords to dazzling indie psych-rock and dream-pop, today’s playlist offers plenty of lyrical and musical richness.

Flight of the Conchords – “Father and Son” (Live in London) (Wellington, New Zealand)

RIYL: Flight of the Conchords

What better way to wrap this year than with new melodies from music’s wryest duo? Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie – a.k.a. Flight of the Conchords – have shared “Father and Son (Live in London)”, a live cut that does one of two things: it either makes you A) glad you’ve seen them perform before or B) curse the ticket gods for not allowing this to happen. OK, it also ups your excitement at the possibility of a new album and tour, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

While facts about a possible tour are limited (read: we have zero details), we do know this video is from their HBO special, Live in London, recorded earlier this year. The folk duo’s trademark humor is in peak form here. Fans will love this tune, as long as their dad hasn’t been replaced by some guy named Trevor.

The special is not yet for sale (you can stream it online), but Sub Pop has plenty of their earlier recordings, if that’s what you’re into.

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Jet Luv – “Rebel on the Run” (Astoria, Queens, NY USA)

RIYL: The Who, The Kinks

A surprise late entry for our Best Music Discoveries of 2018 list is an emerging indie rock trio from Queens. Jet Luv make a jaw-dropping first impression with their retro-inspired debut single, “Rebel on the Run”. One spin of this tune is proof they are future stars in the making.

What stands out most about this band is not simply their tight musicianship. Indie bands aren’t exactly a rarity in New York City; you expect any group from there to have decent skills. It has also become de rigueur for new bands to draw deep from the retro well for inspiration, though with mixed results. For every lauded Temples or Lemon Twigs there is a ridiculed Greta Van Fleet. The line between inspired and derivative is often razor-thin. Fortunately for Jet Luv, they treat their ‘60s-era influences (The Who, The Kinks) as a mere starting point for new paths, not a sole destination. If you like vintage rock ‘n roll riffs that sound fresh and modern, you have just discovered your new favorite band in Jet Luv.

You can grab your copy of this tune at Bandcamp.

Jet Luv are: Gus Rich, George Vardaros, and Brian Waterhouse.

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Wyatt Blair – “(Stuck in a) Daydream” (Los Angeles, USA)

RIYL: The Beatles, Ty Segall, Dawg Yawp

Another modern artist with an old-school sound is the criminally underrated Wyatt Blair. We realize that it’s easy to miss a talented artist’s debut, especially this time of year. Between holiday madness and critics focused on their year-end Best Of lists, you are likely to miss a few hidden gems. Wyatt Blair is such an artist, a fact he proves yet again on “(Stuck in A) Daydream” from his new LP, Inspirational Strawberries.

There is much to love about Blair’s sound: his is a seamless fusion of multiple genres. He deftly blends subtle psych rock elements alongside ‘70s- and ‘80s sounds, as you hear on “Gotta Get Away” that we shared last month. But the unexpected twist here is the use of a sitar. You’ll swear Blair is channeling Magical Mystery Tour-era Beatles for the entire three-plus minutes. Trust us when we tell you that Wyatt Blair is one artist you should get to know immediately. Debut albums as brilliant as this aren’t something you hear every day.

Inspirational Strawberries is out now via Burger Records on Bandcamp.

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Cass McCombs – “Estrella” (Concord, CA, USA)

RIYL: Mark Knopfler, Fernando Visiconte, Phosphorescent

One album we are eager to hear is Tip of the Sphere from California indie artist Cass McCombs. The rich textures we loved on “Sleeping Volcanoes” in October return on his newest single, “Estrella.” Here he pays tribute to the late Mexican singer-songwriter and star (“estrella”) Juan Gabriel who died in 2016 while touring. Lyrically the song tips its hat to Gabriel’s influence (“Only you can rouse me in that way”) while the gentle melody maintains its hushed reverence.

The song’s depth will not surprise McCombs’s fans: after eight albums and his collaboration with other artists, McCombs has a history of pairing intimate lyrics with equally powerful instrumentation. Based on what he has shared thus far, his forthcoming ninth album should be one of the coming year’s very best.

ANTI- will release Tip of the Sphere on February 8. You can pre-order it from these streaming and purchase links.

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Gabriel Birnbaum – “Stack the Miles” (Brooklyn, USA)

RIYL: Wilder Maker, Midlake, DeVotchKa

You might recognize Gabriel Birnbaum‘s voice more than his name. As part of his main project, Wilder Maker, he creates breathtaking soundscapes with a southwestern flavor. Those same elements are present on this single he is releasing as a solo artist.

“Stack the Miles” draws you deep into its melancholy narrator’s tale. A certain weariness hangs on every note, and the result is indie folk storytelling at its best. Birnbaum does more than evoke the forlorn atmosphere of a roadside bar; he brings every detail to life in the lyrics:

“When the blue gets to deepening and I start thinking bout a drink
and the roadside graves a blur of names go flying by
Ten years of breath condensed on barroom walls
dawns where liquor leaves the blood…”

This single is available on Bandcamp.

Gabriel Birnbaum is joined by Will Graefe (guitars), Adam Brisbin (bass), and Jason Nazary (drums, marimba).

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It Looks Sad. – “Graves” (Charlotte, USA)

RIYL: The War on Drugs, Surfer Blood, Beach House

Finally this week we have another must-hear emerging group. Jimmy Turner and Alex Ruiz comprise It Looks Sad., a North Carolina-based indie duo whose sound almost defies genre labels.  “Graves” blends dream-pop and psych-rock with a dizzying yet gratifying result. In fact, their sound is so captivating you may have trouble finding any words at all once the song ends. (Spoiler: the entire album flows seamlessly as an unbroken narrative of lush tones.)

“Graves” is awash in dense tones that call to mind The War on Drugs and Surfer Blood, though with a distinct summer warmth not always present in Adam Granduciel’s sound. The intensity of the surf-rock vibe is far from subtle; you find yourself daydreaming of crashing waves as you listen. Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean you can’t escape to a quick beach holiday, if only in your mind. These guys transport you to a sunnier place and provide the ideal soundtrack for year-end escape. So sit back and take stock of your 2018 highlights as you contemplate what lies ahead in 2019. Despite the band’s name, the vivid colors in this song’s palette should instill a bright hope in all who listen.

Sky Lake is out now on Bandcamp via Tiny Engines. You can get cassettes and vinyl from the label. Fans in the eastern U.S. can catch them next February in Philadelphia. Get details here.

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