There's only one true way, in this day and age, to stand out if you are making any form of indie-pop; be good at it. Thankfully, the scene Birdtapes is quietly cultivating is filled with bands who are doing just that, crafting excellent, well-made, and usually dark blends of lo-fi indie-pop and rock that feels truly exciting (mainly because it is a bunch of young kids who are making it). Now the label has put out their third piece of vinyl ever in order showcase two artists who prove how powerful indie-pop can still be: Alex G & R. L. Kelly.
I feel slightly embarrassed with this being the first time I've ever listened to Alex G's music. Quickly scanning his bandcamp, it's obvious how prolific he is, pumping out digital EPs and albums at quite a steady clip (with three releases this year, not counting this split). And yet despite this plethora of material, it's all sort of perfect. Quick, well constructed, and deeply earnest lo-fi, indie-pop gems snapped out of an acoustic guitar and a well selected (but minimal) instrumentation. These three songs serve as a wonderful introduction to his craft, none even reaching two minutes, each sticking out in their own way. There's the fuzzy boy-girl trade off of "Magic Mirror", the childhood cruelty a la Campfires doing quiet Built to Spill of "Adam", and the R. L. Kelly-esque self-deprecation of "Trade". All bring with this warm sort of life, like pages of torn apart short stories that have now been set to simple, yet wonderful music.
Even more so, I was excited for R. L. Kelly's return. I gushed over her tape from earlier this year, and these tracks are just as wonderful as those were. Here she has made three more crookedly sad and stunning pieces of acoustic indie-pop to help expand her all to small discography. "The Voices" is particular is true sucker punch to the gut, a quiet, two minute mediation on trying to handle mental illness and the draining effects it has on you. At the same time though, almost paradoxically, Kelly's songs seem to have gained some degree of confidence. They are not as lo-fi as they once were, and as such, feel ever so brighter or even powerful. "Everyday" offers the first hints of this, with a high-mixed bass line and distorted guitars over Kelly's sad words. By the time her side ends, it's practically bursting to life with "Fake Out", a steadily building song of layered vocals, shakers, and upbeat guitar that is quite lovely, even if it doesn't mask the bleakness contained within. It's so wonderful to see Kelly can keep crafting such haunting and wonderful tunes, and even more so the way they can complement her friend's collection of songs so seamlessly.
Alex G's Bandcamp
R. L. Kelly's Bandcamp
Buy the R. L. Kelly/Alex G split 7" here, from Birdtapes