Hotline TNT & Golden Apples Made Two Very Good Indie Rock Albums

Hotline TNT & Golden Apples Made Two Very Good Indie Rock Albums

I'd begin by saying 'They don't make them like this anymore,' but it's much more likely the case that things like this never stopped being made and I just didn't know where to look for them, or that, thanks to ever-shifting cultural and technological factors, things exactly like this never existed before. The 'this' I'm referring to, of course, are two gloriously noisy, hooky, loud, just-messy-enough, 35ish-minute-long indie rock albums that recently arrived within a week of each other. Bananasugarfire is the fourth full-length release by a Philly musician named Russell Edling who records as Golden Apples. Cartwheel is the second album by Brooklyn-based musician Will Anderson, who records as Hotline TNT.

I cued up both of these albums a week ago while on my way to a show, and they're both so good that when I tried turning them off I literally couldn't, I actually physically couldn't do it. Unless it's an album or artist I plan to write about, I rarely binge-listen—there's just too much else out there and streaming's readily available allure has turned me into a shameless one-and-done listener—but every time I've left my apartment in the past week I've felt the urge to hear either Bananasugarfire or Cartwheel. Naturally, the only way I can justify this to myself is by writing about both albums.

I have an unconscious, undefined quota of tweets by mutuals that, when reached by an artist I've never heard of, requires that I listen to them. Golden Apples arrived at that amorphous threshold sometime last week, either because enough trusted online acquaintances mentioned them, or more likely because one of those online acquaintances gave them the vaunted Elephant 6 comparison. Like any worthwhile indie fan, I have a boundless well of warm fuzzies reserved for the now-legendary loose collective of psych/power-pop/experimental bands that doused the '90s in lysergic melodies, singing saws, and tape loops, and my ears perk up whenever the name is invoked to describe new music. (Side note: I'm surprised I've never read an 'Elephant 6 Was Bad, Actually' thinkpiece, and it would probably piss me off, but I'd still like to see someone make that argument.)

The comparison makes sense for Bananasugarfire. This thing is full of fuzzy guitars leading sun-kissed melodies while lightly fucked up effects swirl around in the background and Edling's sweet nasally voice curls around lyrics about sunshine, gardens, and trees. The dream of the '60s via the dream of the '90s is alive on Bananasugarfire. The first half of the album is made up of shaggy, ebullient power pop songs that culminate with the wistful, delightfully jangly "Waiting For A Cloud." From there, things get weirder and move beyond one-to-one E6 comparisons.

"Waiting For A Cloud" transitions (seamlessly, I might add!) into the locked groove of my favorite song on the album, the quasi-title track "Sugarfire." There's more synthy weirdness, the central riffs are more New Order than Neutral Milk Hotel, and the whole thing just feels like an explosion of ideas that may in fact be painstakingly arranged but come off as spontaneous. "Park (Rye)" is another clear standout from the get-go—the way the glimmering acoustic guitar in the forefront meshes with the wall of distorted electric guitars in the background is just astonishing. The album ends on its weirdest song and biggest outlier, "Green," a bad-trip comedown from all of the earlier highs. It is no-shit heavy, something that wouldn't sound out of place on DIIV's last album, and it hammers home the point that Golden Apples are no one trick pony.

Unlike Golden Apples, Hotline TNT was a band I'd heard of long before their new album arrived. 2021's Nineteen In Love got a fair bit of buzz, but I found the band's big riffs and hooks a little too obscured by the lo-fi recording for my taste—I love a good lo-fi recording but there's certain artists/sounds for which that approach doesn't vibe, in my opinion. I'd heard people rave about the band's live show, and decided to hold off on hearing more until I could attend one, but I still haven't had the opportunity to do so.

Cartwheel, despite being the band's big label glo-up (it's out on Jack White's Third Man Records), retains just enough scuzziness to keep the best parts about the band's gritty sound alive. All of the guitar tones sound like shoes that are worn-in enough to lose the antiseptic fresh-off-the-rack look but aren't yet beat to shit. And guess what: the riffs and hooks are even bigger, and this time they're clear enough that you can pick out the intricacies. Second track "I Thought You'd Change" is, simply put, one of the best-written pop-rock songs I've heard all year. Its melodies are simple enough to give you that delicious payoff that happens when a melody goes exactly where you expect it to go, but the somewhat idiosyncratic song structure ensures that it's a song we haven't already heard 17,000 times. The album hovers in between power-pop and shoegaze, a clearly fruitful territory I haven't heard many other artists attempt. Cartwheel is already one of the clear indie breakouts of the year, and deservedly so.

I chose to write about Bananasugarfire and Cartwheel in tandem not just because they were released a week apart, but because there's a bit of crossover between them. The two bands might have wildly different stylistic touchstones—I don't hear much Elephant 6 in Hotline TNT and I don't hear any Billy Corgan-style guitar heroism in Golden Apples—but they strike me as a similar type of band, if that makes any sense.

Both were started by a sole founder, played around with rotating casts of musicians in the past, and arrived at something resembling a concrete lineup in the run-up to their new albums. Like 90% of current guitar-based indie rock bands, the quickest way to describe each band is with a reference to '90s rock, but unlike 90% of those '90s-indebted current bands, they're more than the sum of their influences. And then there's the specific level of fidelity and fuzz both bands have arrived at on these albums—it's juuuuust scuzzy enough to still have one foot in lo-fi, but there's also enough sonic definition to allow for multi-layered intricacies that would be drowned out by the music's more dominating tones if recorded on a four-track.

Most importantly, Hotline TNT and Golden Apples both prioritize songs and hooks over vibes. Their new albums are both fantastic, and while I'll most likely be taking a break from them following my weeklong binge, they'll wind up on my year-end list. Thanks for a great week of early November listening, you two!

Plug One

As I alluded to last week, I reviewed the new Empty Country album, Empty Country II, for Pitchfork. It's a sprawling, rambling album of intricately-detailed songs that blur the line between reality and myth. It's a very place-oriented album, with locations up and down the East Coast name-dropped left-and-right. I think an alternate title of The Lonesome Crowded East would work. It's Best New Music in my heart.

Plug Two

Eli Enis and Miranda Reinert are 2/4 of the hosts of Endless Scroll, a podcast I quite enjoy (and guested on in 2021). They both saw the ongoing Hotelier reunion/Foxing Albatross anniversary tour within the past week, and both wrote great reflections upon it. Here's Eli's, and here's Miranda's. I'm going to see that tour next Thursday—don't be surprised if I write about it next week.

BOI (Best Of Inbox) #8

Again: if you are reading this in your email inbox/app and can't see the track embeds, just open it in your browser.

Flung - "Intrinsic"

Well, this is just lovely. "Intrinsic," the new standalone single by Oakland-based producer Flung, reminds me of a lot of the glitchy bedroom electronic stuff I'd find on blogs in the early 2010s—Baths, Ricky Eat Acid, things of that nature. The sample-based composition has a warm, homespun, lived-in feel that I don't hear in a lot of electronic music these days.

Infant Island - "Another Cycle"

For whatever reason, Infant Island's 2020 breakout, Beneath, never connected with me. On paper, they're a band that should be directly in my wheelhouse—blending screamo, black metal, and post-hardcore—but that album didn't blow me away. The first single from their upcoming follow-up, on the other hand, knocked my socks off. "Another Cycle" is an epic, churning composition that gets to the heart of why this blend of sounds can be so moving. It's not beautiful in spite of being heavy, it's beautiful because it's heavy. Infant Island's Obsidian Wreath is out 1/14/24.

Kirsten Ludwig - "Sunbeam"

This one sounds exactly like its title: light, bright, warm, fleeting. Transported by "a golden dream to magic space," Canadian singer/songwriter Kirsten Ludwig floats atop burbling mellotrons and synths, as well as some in-the-pocket drumming, on the title track from her new album. Sunbeam is out today.

Logic1000 & Kayla Blackmon - "Self To Blame"

Sydney-born, Berlin-based electronic musician Logic1000 has put together a great run of singles and EPs over the past four years, and now it's time for her to levy all of the goodwill she's accrued into a debut album. Its lead single, a collaboration with vocalist Kayla Blackmon, might be the poppiest thing she's ever done, with clear allusions to '90s vocal house in both Blackmon's slinky delivery and the tasteful little glimpses of that one keyboard sound (you'll know it when you hear it).

Rosie Tucker - "Unending Bliss"

C-A-T-C-H-Y. This one has so many hooks I don't know what to do with all of them! "Unending Bliss" is right—in under three minutes, the song constantly contorts itself into new shapes without ever losing its melodic throughline. Comprising big riffs, twinkly noodling, and an acrobatic vocal performance, this single's a certified banger.

SANOI - "Mountain Pass"

Just two tracks after a Berlin-via-Sydney electronic act, we've got a New Zealand-via-Germany one! SANOI just released an album called Echoes Of Home, which draws inspiration from "the organic house and techno scene of Berlin," and here I'm highlighting the patiently building pre-release single "Mountain Pass." I'm reminded of the patience and textured approach of someone like Pantha Du Prince, mixed with Bonobo's penchant for colorful-but-tasteful sounds. Some great deep house right here.

Skrilla - "Booted"

Skrilla is a Philly rapper who I was not aware of before this week, but rest assured I will be checking for him here on out. He's got a sound that I'd describe as a gothic version of Zelooperz—that is to say, he's as unhinged and unpredictable as the similar-voiced Detroit rapper, but favors much darker production. His new single "Booted" literally begins with forlorn operatic vocals and strings, and then it launches into a half-time lurch that leaves Skrilla a lot of space for Ja Morant comparisons and a Fabo-esque hook.

Thysenterprise - "Sounds After the Fade-Out"

Three weeks ago, I featured Kassa Overall's "2 Sentimental," a track that interpolates Duke Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood," in this section. This new single by Netherlands-raised, Barcelona-based jazz pianist Thysenterprise isn't as blatant in its mimicry, but the artist does note that it "hints" at the same Ellington classic. What a coincidence: they're both great.

Vegyn Feat. Lauren Auder - "Halo Flip"

I have to admit: I was initially on the fence about this one. Trust me though, give it a minute. I don't care about your dietary restrictions, "Vegyn" is an annoying thing to call yourself, and I wasn't initially sold on his sloshy, King Krule-esque baritone. But "Halo Flip" is an interesting long-form pop song, making good use of stately strings and slowed down drum-n-bass beats. It finally clicked for me on a late night walk, so maybe treat yourself to one of those if you're not feeling it.

Yaeji - "Easy Breezy"

I tried so hard to prioritize songs by less acclaimed artists on this week's list, but I simply couldn't keep this slapper off of here. Brooklyn-based Korean-American musician Yaeji's been all over the few remaining music websites for the past five years, but she has yet to release one song that suggests that she might not belong. "Easy Breezy" almost baits backlash with its tranquil bossa nova (but also kinda Sugar Ray) guitar loop, but as usual, Yaeji slams this one home with her pristine pop instincts. An unstoppable force.

All Inbox Infinity picks are available on a playlist via Apple Music and Spotify.

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Jamie Larson