Late summer is often called “the Dog Days,” a period during which the air is thick with pollen and malaise, and everything crawls to a panting halt — including new music releases. Consequently, we are left to score these last scorching days with worn-out tracks and cooling units. Luckily, a cadre of bands elected to sweat out those last few months of blazing heat to take a vacation — not from music, but from their pre-existing groups. Yup, we’re talking about side projects: a musical reshuffling that an artist undertakes when he or she is blessed with downtime and an itch to create. And luckily for you, side projects are as widespread this summer as a sunburn on a particularly rotund tourist. Here are five we’re looking forward to over the last months of summer.
Ryan Kattner (he of the gravel throat) and Nick Thorburn (he of the power murder ballad) had been talking about playing together for years. “I felt that the contrast of our voices would be interesting,” Kattner explains. The two started pumping out tunes “between the cracks” of their other bands, and eventually took on Joe Plummer to round out the self-proclaimed “Doom Wop” group. Now, Kattner and Thorburn twist their divergent pipes on songs like “Pineapple Girl,” the story of Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega and his 10-year-old pen pal, Sarah York. “Nick was Noriega and I was the 10-year-old girl,” Kattner says. “Naturally that makes sense. I sound like a 10-year-old girl when I sing.” [Listen to “Pineapple Girl on Soundcloud.]
Like every good act, newly minted Ill Fits was born out of “downtime, late-night jam sessions and a ‘90s radio rock cover band,” according to Simon O’Connor of Amazing Baby. “When we started we were just kind of joking around, but I do think that this is going to become a pretty big thing for all of us,” he says. By “this” O’Connor doesn’t mean slinging covers of Chumbawamba, but the sonic collaboration the resulted from that exercise. Currently, Ill Fits is purposely flying under the radar, with one song to its name: a jangling, smoky track called “Blood & Devotion” that’s (thankfully) more Bowie than Chumbawamba. [Listen to Ill Fits on Soundcloud.]
After spending almost 10 years heading up California-based indie band Rogue Wave, Zach Rogue was ready to bust out of his gilded cage as something new — namely, frontman of a new band, Release the Sunbird. Rogue sketched out a series of what he calls “Sunday morning songs,” and brought on a cadre of talented musicians to fill in the aural blanks. “I think if you’re doing things outside of your comfort zone, then time sort of slows down and you appreciate what you love more,” Rogue says of the project. “It lifted my spirits and made me feel a lot less burned out.” Fittingly, Rogue’s newly dropped album, Come Back to Us, has a similar effect on the listener. [Listen to Release the Sunbird on Soundcloud.]
4. Mathieu Santos (Ra Ra Riot)
In the musical ecosphere, the bassist is usually deemed “the mysterious one.” Well, Ra Ra Riot’s four-string strummer Mathieu Santos recently emerged from the ether with a solo side project titled Massachusetts 2010 — a more sparse, electronic offering to contrast with his band’s lush, orchestral stylings. “Part of the reason I wanted to try and make this album was to sort of see how I fit into the band, and what was left when the band was taken away,” says Santos. [Listen to Mattieu Santos on Soundcloud.]
5. Erika Spring (Au Revoir Simone)
Brooklyn indie-pop band Au Revoir Simone sounds like a cadre of ghost girls in an echoingly empty house (see: the video for their tarot-inspired song, “Knight of Wands”). Well, it seems one ghost girl has drifted away from the pack. After band member Annie Hart became pregnant, the gals took a break and Spring started writing songs. The first track, “6 More Weeks” — a collaboration with Jorge Elbrecht of Violens — turns a spotlight on Spring’s whispery, clear voice, which is wholly capable of haunting all on its lonesome. [Listen to “6 More Weeks” on Soundcloud.]