Indie darlings Surfer Blood may seem the exception in West Palm Beach, a town better known for harboring the nation’s oldest gefilte fish consumers than producing great music. But fortunately for us, the reverb-spewing quintet is part of a crop of talented West Palm Beach bands — including the Dewars, the Jameses, Sumsun, the Hear Hums, singer-songwriter Evan Mui, The Band in Heaven, Cop City/Chill Pillars (as well as their tamer side project, Love Handles), Guy Harvey, and Weird Wives — all of whom know and support each other.
And while a “scene” usually signifies a single style of music, West Palm Beach isn’t pinned to one genre. Far from it. From ambient freak-folk to chill electronic to revamped post-punk to supersonic pop rock, the music scene up north isn’t easily boxed in. But it is easily enjoyed. To get you on your way, here is a closer look at several of the bands making damn good music only about an hour north of Miami. With Zitfest I coming up on Dec. 17, you might want to get acquainted with the West Palm scene in a hurry.
With the release of Songs From the Neverglades this year, the Dewars’ proved themselves one of the most interesting pop music bands to come out of South Florida. Ever. “Playground Mediasma” would sit comfortably in Beck’s catalogue, “Pete the Pedophile” aligns right with Grizzly Bear’s acid-slumber rock, “If the World Was Gonna End Today” signals the Kinks — always a good thing — and “Keep Down the Noise Boys” won’t leave my head despite its relative mediocrity.
Track after track, twin brothers Anthony and Zac Dewar traverse the pop of today and yesterday and still manage to have a sound of their own. Now home after touring the U.S. with Surfer Blood, the Dewars are in the process of recording their second six-song EP. The release date is still up in the air, and a few unidentified labels have expressed interest in releasing the band’s new material.
You can listen to Songs From The Neverglades HERE.
The Jameses look to be (and should be) next in line after Surfer Blood to make a name for themselves on the national indie scene, having had “The Haunted Rider” featured on Pitchfork and their debut self-titled 7” picked up by Captured Tracks, the label home of the Beach Fossils, Thee Oh Sees, and Wild Nothing. Aside from the natural hit in “Haunted Rider,” the Jameses brand of post-punk revivalism calls to mind the delicate synth of Franz Ferdinand (“Guai Lo”) and the chic indifference of lo-fi pop rock (think GBV, Fugs, or even Elephant 6ers).
Listen to more Jameses tracks HERE.
Evan Mui is the “Double Duty” Radcliffe of the West Palm Beach music scene, playing bass for the Dewars and forging an even more promising career as a solo artist. In Anything and Everything, his self-released debut album, Mui succeeds at being confessional and intricate where a lesser artist may have come off whiny and trite. His music nods tastefully toward Elliot Smith’s blessed ghost while summoning the rock sensibilities of Stephen Malkmus, Mark Lanegan, Built to Spill (“Her Love”), Jason Lytle, and the Plastic Ono Band (“It’s Cruel What You Do”). Nothing, however, stands out like “Everything Is New”, a song that grips your heart and threatens to squeeze it to pulp.
Having toured the country with the Dewars as Surfer Blood’s supporting act for the last month, the 22-year-old Mui is finishing his second album.
“As soon as I got back home [from tour], I got super motivated to immerse myself into the recording process again and finish it,” Mui told me. “It’s gonna be probably 10 to 12 songs. It’s quite a bit different from Anything and Everything — it’s a lot less moody. It still has bittersweet songs, but I think I identify a lot less with unrequited love songs and helplessness these days. So, fuller band numbers and some sitar-driven songs.”
Mui has released an EP called Nighttime, which features two songs from the upcoming album. Download it HERE with the code “semolinapilchard” (what else?). You can check out all 12 tracks off of Anything & Everything HERE.
While Twin Shadow and How to Dress Well are hogging all of indie’s ambient accolades, Sumsun’s Judson Rogers is cementing his place as a preeminent chillwave looping magician. In an instrumental genre where amateurs too often pass for professionals, Sumsun employs precise technique and offers no bullshit to the keen listener. Rogers sound works both as dance music and baby-making music. Leaving Records, a small L.A.-based label, took notice and released Samo Milagro, Sumsun’s 30-minute debut (available digitally and on cassette, limited to 200).
Meanwhile, Rogers’ fellow West Palmers can’t wait to hear what he will make of their music. Guy Harvey already had Rogers transform “Closest Time,” while the Band in Heaven await the Sumsun take on “Summer Bummer.” Other Sumsun remixes to look out for soon: Hard Mix, Hear Hums, Evenings, Sleigh Bells, Caribou, Matthewdavid, Millionyoung, Avey Tare, and Great Beer. Oh my.
To hear Roger’s gush about his fellow West Palm musicians gives a good idea of the camaraderie in the music scene there.
“It’s been awesome to watch everyone start to release shit and travel more to Miami and around the country,” Rogers says. “I remember the first time I saw Guy Harvey, I was blown away. I just heard this raw untapped potential that I think they have utilized and really have become a great band. Their drummer Drew and I joke that I am the first Guy Harvey fanboy. But I remember a few years ago I was driving with Mitch from Hear Hums from West Palm Beach to Tallahassee and listening to their first album, Notions Shift At Typetamine Bay, and being so into it! I think the CD we were listening to was his first copy he had burned, and now they are releasing Psyche Cycles soon and I am just so proud of them. That record is so well done — it really is one of the best records of the year. But it’s shit like that — watching people and bands grow around you into something super progressive and exciting — [it] is a really awesome thing.”
Check out Sumsun’s “Reality” and “Ants” HERE.
Hear Hums maestro Mitch Myers is obsessed with thoughts. “Spatial relations with instruments and sounds are not relative to a physical reality, but more to your mind and endlessness, and of thought-consciousness,” he says. And if you understand that even a little bit, then you’ll love this ambient freak-folk outfit.
Hear Hums’ debut, Notions Shift At Typetamine Bay, is a collection of introspective freak-folk ramblings and experimental collages. “On the Road to Carnival Consciousness” is a must. While the album veers into the incoherent at times, its flexibility is a testament to Hear Hums’ spectral range. Their upcoming LP, Psyche Cycles, (to be released on cassette and digitally in December or January) promises to be more focused.
“For Psyche Cycles, I started conceptualizing it before I even made the songs,” said Myers. “There was still a lot of spontaneity, but there was a lot of conceptualizing. I wanted us to make songs that captured what goes on inside the human psyche.”
Check out the Hear Hums’ live radio performance on WMNF 88.5 in Tampa, FL, for the weekly segment Artful Dodgins HERE.
THE BAND IN HEAVEN
Drawing on their love of Suicide (the band) and My Bloody Valentine, The Band In Heaven — best friends Lauren Dwyer and Ates Isildek — layer sweet melodies with reverb and distortion to transport the listener to an abrasive dream world. Despite attending the University of Central Florida, the band chooses to live in West Palm Beach, an arrangement that inspired instant classic, “Summer Bummer”.
“That song was actually the most personal song to me,” says Dwyer. “[Ates] wrote it, but we were living in Orlando in a house with his old band mates and my ex. That band fell apart and I was caught in the middle between ex-boyfriend and best friend. ‘Summer Bummer’ is like looking at the way our lives are changing. We’re both just like, ‘Man, this summer’s gonna suck’. And it ended up being one of the best summers. We just started our band and didn’t know how it was gonna be, what the reaction would be in West Palm having been gone for over four years. But it ended up being really awesome. If anything, it’s more Ates’ breakup song with his old life. It was kind of looking at how your life used to be and then being wary of everything in the future because everything changed so quickly.”
Check out “Summer Bummer” and other tracks HERE.
You can view all of our local music coverage HERE.