REVIEW: Little Big League / Basement / Islands
by Chad Jewett
Little Big League
“Pure Bliss Choices”
“Pure Bliss Choices,” our second listen from Philadelphia dream-punk quartet Little Big League’s split with Ovlov, finds the band searching out new shapes for their sun-dappled emo haziness. Where the similarly euphorically-titled “Year of the Sunhouse” was all about the effervescent joy of movement, “Pure Bliss Choices” is more measured, pensive, as if pacing a yard. Michelle Zauner, more often found at the sunny top of her alto, instead keeps to the bottom of her range, giving the song an introverted, conversational quality, resplendent of the type of intimacy you’d find on a Reckoning-era R.E.M. song (or even the human-scaled melodies of Broken Social Scene’s You Forgot It In People). Indeed, like Michael Stipe, Zauner has an incredible gift for radiating hard-won joy or subtle anxieties — a good way for thinking about the thoughtful yet incandescent guitar pop of “Pure Bliss Choices.”
Combining the cotton-y, strummed weariness of On A Wire-era Get Up Kids with the kind of sweetly languorous melody that will get you Morrissey comparisons (if not a nod to Idlewild or The Stills), “Summer’s Colour,” the beautifully-titled new song from U.K. emo favorites Basement is a rich, luminous three minutes of likable indie rock. Like the similarly reunited and similarly beloved post-hardcore quintet The Jazz June, Basement seem to be focusing on the joys of economically-paced, blissed-out major key forward-motion. Smoothing away the tangles and wrinkles of emo’s more idiosyncratic aesthetic details (though there is a gently winding guitar solo at the song’s middle), “Summer’s Colour” keeps a warm pace and a warmer melody, a plush, airy three minutes of solstice.
“Aloe Hills Are Blooming”
At this point, one realizes that Nick Thorburn simply understands melodies. No matter how cerebral and concept-heavy his music with Islands grows, from the prog-noir of Arm’s Way through the dusky torch songs of A Sleep & A Forgetting, the idiosyncratic singer-songwriter has a gift for affecting tunefulness, for the kind of gently tired sing-songs that everyone else kicks themselves for not thinking of first. On “Aloe Hills Are Blooming,” a B-Side from Islands’ most recent album, the haunted, difficult Ski Mask, Thorburn plumbs young sadness with deft beauty, the singer’s voice reaching into the second youth of an airy falsetto. Set above a bed of crystalline guitars and a gently groaning organ, Thorburn captures the rocky feelings of adolescence with his signature economy: “Hold on to summer now just to get by.” Later, the singer crafts a stunning hook out of nothing more than the word “Bloom.” One can imagine leaving Thorburn with a broken piano and half the key of C and he’d come out two hours later with a song that might make you cry. Ski Mask seemed to largely be concerned with the difficult emotions of an underappreciated artist. “Aloe Hills Are Blooming” is a reminder of the greatness you might be missing out on.