New | Lovestreams & Youth Lagoon

Two artists dropped a song today, right in the middle of the work week. Conveniently, they're both named with bodies of water! Thanks for making this tie-in easy, you guys.

Lovestreams is the name of Will Sheff's new electronic side/solo project. I know, I'm surprised too. "I decided to do a project there I’d wanted to do for years and years, which is to make an album by myself and for myself, an album that doesn’t owe anything to music I made before," he writes on his website. That's no understatement. Other than the familiar voice, this is not Okkervil River at all; not in structure, flavor, style or in any of the other intangibles that makes that band great.

Usually I'm a little skeptical of the electro side project. It seems that when an indie artist needs a creative jolt, they either take left turn toward the synthesizer or a right turn toward the country slide guitar. I had my doubts, but Will Sheff manages to pull out a convincing song that's better than anything on the last Okkervil River album.

A big part of it is that he knows he's working with a different medium and adapts appropriately. A lot of other bands making the shift will write the song they normally would, but run their voice through a vocoder or something. "Shock Corridor" has no literary references, no fables about forgotten pop figures, no tour through the thesaurus. Sheff writes a barrage of laser-focused confessions as the song's fists clench tighter and tighter. He feels more personal here than I've heard him in a long while, and that's just as refreshing as the drum machine beat.

Check out that drop 3:25 in. More importantly, check out how his singing and writing turns into a stream of consciousness dropping of everything, like he's clearing everything out, or maybe it's all just falling through his fingers. Fantastic stuff.

On top of that, we have Youth Lagoon with the first single from their upcoming album, WONDROUS BUGHOUSE. "Dropla" is also a departure, but not as dramatic. THE YEAR OF HIBERNATION songs often went like this: a delicate soundscape, a fuzzy incoherent voice, then a cool beat kicks in and suddenly we're all bobbing our heads. "Dropla" foregoes the build up and kicks in from the first note. Any tenderness runs alongside the song's natural bounce.  Drums here sound more organic, without hand claps or crisp cuts, and Trevor Powers isn't obscuring his voice under nearly as much distortion. He wants to be heard, and the song is alive for it.

If you're familiar with Youth Lagoon, it might read like he's getting rid of everything that made him distinct. But the key is that it's not just change, it's growth. He's learned to sustain the climax of his old songs for 6 minutes, which is already his longest song yet. I don't expect every song on the upcoming album to sound like this, but it's nice to see him try some things out. Lyrically it's not a barn burner, but youthful idealism about mortality is always a powerful hook, especially if you make it sound like a plea from the bottom of the heart. It ends just as it began.

I'm really liking 2013 so far.