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Saturday, March 17, 2018

'Bad Bad News' and other good things - Here are our New Music Picks of the Week

As usual, our New Music picks for the week cover a wide range of styles, from jazzy soul to bouncy pop, because we're all about variety.

Leon Bridges' second album, due in May, is called Good Thing, and the first single is called "Bad, Bad News." The lyric ties those phrases together: "They tell me I was born to lose / But I made a good thing out of bad, bad news." It's a song of confidence and assertiveness in the face of adversity, and includes our favorite couplet of the week: "Ain't got no name, ain't got no fancy education / But I can see right through a powdered face on a painted fool." The track features a strutting bass line, a danceable drum beat, guitar and horn accents and a terrific, jazzy instrumental closer.

We recently featured "Roots" from the debut album by Carmanah, and couldn't wait much longer to showcase another tune. The band brews a unique blend of folk, blues and other influences, and "Send It To Me" is on the bluesier side, with hints of R&B and even Motown. Speak in Rhymes, produced by Gus Van Go (The Arkells, Whitehorse, Fast Romantics) is a very impressive first effort, from a band that sounds like it has been refining its sound for years.

Next we jump to London and Coralcrown, a new indie-pop project led by Luis Gotor. He's preparing to roll out his first EP in May. Gotor describes his music as "influenced by modern indie rock mixed with disco music from the 70s and pop music from the 80s." We're featuring the just-released single, the irresistibly catchy "Between The Lights."

Another emerging artist with just a couple of singles out so far is Australia's Hatchie. Brisbane-based multi-instrumentalist Harriette Pillbeam was among the many artists featured at SXSW last week, where the Austin Chronicle says she presented an "enveloping half-hour of lush, gauzy, glimmering pop." Her new single "Sure" opens with a guitar strum that takes us back to Sixpence None the Richer's "Kiss Me," and the Hatchie sound has also been compared with The Sundays, Cocteau Twins and The Cranberries. Not bad company.

We have trouble categorizing the music of Lake Street Dive. Is it rock, pop, soul, jazz, maybe even cabaret? There's some of all that in Rachel Price's dynamite vocals and the tight playing of Mike "McDuck" Olson (trumpet, guitar), Bridget Kearney (upright bass), and Mike Calabrese (drums) - now augmented by keyboardist Akie Bermiss. They cite influences that run the gamut from swing-era jazz through The Beatles to Motown. Ahead of the forthcoming album Free Yourself Up, we're spinning the single "Good Kisser."

Saturday, March 10, 2018

New music picks of the week: Naked Sun, Erika Wennerstrom, Slow Roar, Georgia Flood, Chvrches

The Naked Sun plays what it calls "honest rock." The group has also described its sound as "psychedelic indie roots Americana alt-country." Whatever you call it, it's a fresh-sounding blend of rock and folk that's great fun to listen to. After several years of playing around the Philly area and releasing a couple of EPs, this sextet is out with its debut album, War With Shadows. It's produced by Brian McTear, who also has worked with fellow Philadelphians War on Drugs and Kurt Vile. We're featuring the single "Holdin' Back the Heart," which frontman Andrew Wesley Harris says was "the very first song the band wrote together way back in 2010 when we were first starting out." (FYI the band's name is an Isaac Asimov reference.)

After fronting a couple of incarnations of the Heartless Bastards, Erika Wennerstrom took a break for some travel, some hiking, some self-discovery, and a solo project - resulting in her new album, Sweet Unknown. "It was a really freeing experience," she says. "I found my strength in my vulnerability as an artist, and really, just as a person. It kind of forced me to allow myself to be a little more exposed and stand on my own two feet.” Wennerstrom reflects on that process on the opening track, "Twisted Highway," while guitars and drums create a rolling sound that evokes a road trip through wide open spaces.

From Los Angeles comes Slow Roar, the project of multi-instrumentalist writer/producers Rebecca Rosoff and Sonny Lanegan. Their debut EP has been out for a few months and was brought to our attention by, which writes that the track "Honey," our pick for the New Music bin, "drips with rock coolness." Or as Indie Obsessive puts it, "the pair conveys a moody wanton energy through complex percussion arrangements, lustfully jagged guitars, detuned snare hits, and Rosoff's rawly soulful and penetrating vocals."

One of the indie bands you've heard us feature before, The Georgia Flood, has spun out another single in advance of its forthcoming second album, Polaroids and Panic Attacks. Following "Take A Hit" and "Illuminations," the latest is "Empty Houses," featuring a slinky bass line, pounding drums and vaguely angsty lyrics, leading to the refrain, "You gotta lose control to enjoy the night."

Scotland's Chvrches are preparing to bring out their third album, Love Is Dead. That unhappy theme runs through the two singles they've released ahead of the LP. On "My Enemy," Lauren Mayberry trades vocals with Matt Berninger of The National on lyrics of recrimination at the end of an affair. The lyrics in "Get Out" are more ambiguous: Is Lauren telling an ex to go away, or looking for a way out together from an unhappy state? We're adding both tracks to our big mix, and featuring the poppier "Get Out" in our New Music bin.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Jason Wells, Glen Hansard, Joan Baez, Calexico and introducing Lighthouse Keepers

Among the many indie artists we play, Jason Wells may be one of the least trendy - a dedicated practitioner of old-school, electric-guitar-driven, blues-influenced rock. Based in central Indiana, he and his band tour steadily around the U.S. Midwest. His latest album, Nine Hours - which he describes as "raw rock-n-roll mojo" - is set for release later this month, and we'll be playing several tracks. We're starting by featuring "Waiting To Come Down" in our New Music bin. The interplay of guitar and keyboards actually reminds us a bit of vintage Traffic. Jason says it's one of his favorite tracks on the record - "Love the jammy stuff we captured." Jam on, brother.

Another artist rooted in traditional sounds, leaning more toward folk-rock, is Ireland's Glen Hansard. His latest release, Between Two Shores, was created in two sessions almost four years apart. While on tour in 2013, he and his band stopped at Wilco's Chicago studios and laid down more than a dozen tracks. But it was only last year that he revisited those recordings. "I heard how great the band sounded," he told Rolling Stone. "I thought, 'These tunes are good! These tunes are worthy!'" But he wasn't happy with the lyrics, so he rewrote the songs and recorded new vocals. The result is getting a lot of attention, and we're joining in by adding "Roll On Slow" to our New Music playlist.

Sailing farther toward the folk end of the spectrum, we find ourselves guided to the Boston area by Lighthouse Keepers. This group formed while most of its members were students at Harvard University. We came upon them via Noisetrade, which tells us: "It began with three students in a dorm room, with a violin, a guitar, a ukulele, and three voices; they started by playing around with various covers as well as free-styling collaboratively." They've since added three members and just released a full album of well-crafted original music. Every track is strong, making it hard to pick one to feature, so we'll just start with the first: "Sense Of Me."

Amid the current folk-rock revival comes a new album from one of the leaders of the 1960s folk-rock movement: Joan Baez. Whistle Down the Wind is her first studio album in ten years. On it, she covers an array of contemporary songwriters, including Josh Ritter, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Eliza Gilkyson. Fitting with Baez's history of commitment to social causes, the album has a theme that NPR Music described as "defiant optimism" in the face of global discord. Our featured pick is Giklyson's apocalyptic-yet-hopeful "The Great Correction."

For another take on current events, we return to the most recent release from Calexico, The Thread that Keeps Us. On "Under the Wheels," over an urgent Latin-meets-reggae rhythm, Joey Burns sings of trying to find hope in one another: "Under the wheels of the war machine / Always someone else's scheme / Show me a sign / When the world falls apart / From the core to the seams / The threads that we seek."

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Carmanah's debut and new music by Midnight Shine, High Up, Katy Guillen and Frank Turner

We start this week's journey of music discovery on the west coast of Canada with Carmanah, an indie band named after an ancient rain forest on Vancouver Island. Their music is an eclectic blend of folk-rock with what they call "gritty vintage flavors" of funk, reggae and more. Laura Mina's vocals are backed by a wide assortment of instruments. In our search for new and interesting sounds, Carmanah's debut album, Speak In Rhymes, is an exciting find. Our pick for the New Music bin this week is "Roots," and you'll be hearing more from the album in the coming weeks.

Moving across Canada to the James Bay area in northern Ontario, we find roots-rockers Midnight Shine. Lead singer Adrian Sutherland grew up in Attawapiskat and bassist Stan Louttit and lead guitarist Zach Tomatuk hail from Moose Factory. They just released their third album, High Road, and while it's filled with original music, we can't resist featuring the one cover: a fresh take on Neil Young's classic "Heart of Gold." The band brings its Indigenous cultural background to the song, with touches of powwow singing and a verse translated into Mushkegowuk Cree. "Growing up in a very isolated area, I listened to a lot of music," said Sutherland. "Neil Young was one of my biggest musical inspirations, and 'Heart of Gold' is still one of my favourite songs. I've performed it many times, so why not record it, and give it a little something of our own."

Next we dip south across the border and catch up with High Up, a retro-soul quintet that's just released its debut LP, You Are Here. The band came together after Christine Fink moved from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, to Omaha, Nebraska, to be closer to her sister, singer-songwriter Orenda Fink. Orenda urged her sister to take the lead singing role, and Christine brings southern touches reminiscent of Texan Janis Joplin or even Alabama Shakes's Brittany Howard to her singing. Powerful horns, drums and guitar back her up on our featured track, "Domino."

From Omaha we head a few hours south to Kansas City, where Katy Guillen and the Girls strive to create a fresh mixture of blues, country and folk. Their new album, Remember What You Knew Before, due next week, revisits material from previous releases, but it's all new to us. The trio mixes acoustic and electric sounds. Lead singer Katy Guillen plays flamenco, resonator, acoustic and electric guitars. The rhythm section is Claire Adams on upright and electric bass and Stephanie Williams on drums and percussion, with both contributing vocals. We're spinning the lead single, "Can't Live Here Anymore."

Now we jump across the Atlantic to check in on Frank Turner, whose next album Be More Kind is due in May. It promises to be a mix of both harsh and gentle songs. We've been playing the single "There She Is," a love-smitten song that also appeared on last year's Songbook collection. The second single, "1933," angrily compares today's political world to that very dark year. Now comes the title track, a plea for a sane response to insane current events: "In a world that has decided that it's going to lose its mind / Be more kind my friend, try to be more kind."

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Acoustic, electronic and other flavors of new music added to our tasty mix

We'll venture to say there aren't many radio programs that would play both the stadium-ready alt/prog rock of Muse and the intimate acoustic/vocal-harmony sounds of I'm With Her. But as our listeners know, music variety is what we're about. What matters to us is that it's all good music.

The debut album by the trio of Aoife O'Donovan, Sara Watkins and Sarah Jarosz beautifully blends their voices and their virtuoso playing with smart, sharp lyrics. As NPR Music put it, the songs on I'm With Her's See You Around express "a spirit of searching restlessness, an impulse to keep moving rather than getting stuck on romantic disappointments, expectations or propriety." We've been playing the title track, which spun out a few months ago. Now that the full LP is out, we're featuring "I-89," a track that stands out from the album's overall folk-music sound by adding jazzy syncopation and building to a loud, defiant chorus: "Everybody wants a piece of me / Everybody wants to see what I see / But I can't just give it to you like that."

In a very different corner of the music galaxy, Muse is working on its eighth album by crafting and releasing one song at a time. Following up on last year's "Dig Down," the British rockers just rolled out "Thought Contagion," a heavy, foreboding track about toxic ideologies infecting society like diseases. "You've been bitten by a true believer / You're been bitten by someone who is hungrier than you / You've been bitten by someone's false beliefs." Singer Matt Bellamy told Rolling Stone that after putting out concept albums in recent years, the band decided to approach one song at a time, then compile them in an LP release late this year or early next.

Lo Moon has taken a similar approach to its debut album. The Los Angeles trio gradually put out four singles over a span of more than a year. Next week they'll finally unveil the LP. The newest single is now in our New Music bin: "Real Love" builds from a slow, hushed start to a synth-rock wall of sound behind Matt Lowell's regret-tinged vocal.

Baltimore duo Beach House has released its first new music since 2015's Thank Your Lucky Stars. On "Lemon Glow," Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally expand on their familiar reverie-inducing haze of layered synths and dreamy vocals, adding a bit more tension and discord to their sound.

Wisconsin folk-rockers Field Report are preparing their third album, Summertime Songs, for release next month. They've just dropped the single "Never Look Back," and we're picking it up for our New Music playlist. Frontman Chris Porterfield says the song is "about those people we find ourselves inexplicably drawn to and then entangled with" before realizing it's not going to end well. "If you can walk away from the car crash, you have to walk away. And never look back. It’s a celebration of self-preservation.​"