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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.​"

Sunday, February 11, 2018

New band Littless + more new music from Middle Kids, Curtis Harding, Danielle Nicole, Brian Fallon

From the vibrant Philadelphia indie-music scene comes a new band that includes members of another group we've featured before. Littless is the project of keyboardist Kyle Graham, who also performs with Hemming. The vocalist is Candice Martello, the singer/songwriter/bandleader of Hemming, and others from that band are also in the new outfit. The result shows off the versatility of these musicians, as Littless has a brighter, more expansive sound. As Philadelphia music site The Key wrote, the music "balances Martello’s sharp vocals with heavy, biting electronic bits that take traditional synth-pop to a new level." We're featuring the opening track, "Better Left Unsaid," and will dive deeper in weeks to come.

Sydney's Middle Kids will release their debut full-length in May. Lost Friends will include the single "Edge of Town" that brought worldwide attention to the trio of Hannah Joy, Harry Day and Tim Fitz a year ago. We're happy to report that the latest track to spin out demonstrates they're no one-hit wonder. Clashmusic describes "Mistake" as "Effortless-sounding indie rock with a cool-as-hell chorus" and - despite its theme of regret over a past error - "a gently uplifting, oddly inspiring song."

A lot of new music lately brings new energy to styles of the past, ranging from early rock to prog and grunge, as well as blues, R&B and soul. Here are two fresh examples:

Curtis Harding's "Need Your Love" hearkens back to '60s soul, right down to its brief spoken bridge. Harding, who got his start as a backup singer with CeeLo Green, broke out with his 2014 debut, Soul Power, and his most-recent collection, Face Your Fear, landed on several best-of-2017 lists. AllMusic wrote that the album "ups the ante for Harding, bumping him from promising newcomer to major artist."

Danielle Nicole, bassist and vocalist from Trampled Under Foot, brings a hard-as-nails attitude to classic-sounding blues-rock on her second solo album, Cry No More. We previously featured the single "Save Me," and with the album due in a couple of weeks, we now have the I'm-so-done-with-you title track. "I wanted to open up more about myself, and I think it shows in the songs,” Danielle told American Blues Scene. “I thought really hard about the stories I wanted to tell in these songs."

Former Gaslight Anthem frontman Brian Fallon clearly puts a lot of thought into his lyrics, and they can sometimes be a bit overbaked. But "If Your Prayers Don't Get To Heaven," the opening track on his latest album, is a relatively simple stick-with-me-and-let's-run-away-together song with a retro-rock sound. NJ.com calls the New Jersey native's Sleepwalkers LP "an exuberant and sonically expansive project comprising the most exciting music he's written in a long, long time."

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Latest from Wye Oak, Jeffrey Gaines, Jacobs Run and more in our New Music bin this week

We're glad to hear Wye Oak has a new album on its way, and we're jumping on the first single, which is also the title track: "The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs." Originally from Baltimore (where their namesake tree grew), Jenn Wasner has relocated to North Carolina and Andy Stack to Texas, and they put the album together in a series of visits to each other's home studios. In a statement, the duo says the album addresses "a litany of modern malaises" with songs "radiating self-reflection and resolve, wielding hooks and musical intricacy as a shield against the madness of the moment." If that sounds a bit grandiose, the track itself is filled with energy, combining synths and guitar with soaring, overdubbed vocals.

Pennsylvania-based singer-songwriter Jeffrey Gaines has just released his latest album - the first since 2003. What's he been doing in the meantime? "Playing live was what I was doing and just loving that," he told Medium.com. An appearance at SXSW helped renew industry connections and led to Gaines working with Omnivore Recordings and producer Chris Price on the new collection, Alright. The studio band consists of bassist Davey Faragher and drummer Pete Thomas, who have worked with Elvis Costello, and guitarist Val McCallum, who has played with Jackson Browne and Sheryl Crow among others. Costello is a major influence on Gaines - unmistakably so in our pick for the New Music bin, "Seems To Me."

It hasn't been widely released yet, but we're happy to have an early copy of another single from Melbourne's Jacobs Run. "So Beautiful" is a solid mid-tempo rocker with a lyric about a new love interest - a more-sophisticated take on the old since-I-saw-her-standing-there theme (pardon the Beatles reference).

For our other New Music picks of the week, we're dipping back into albums that we've featured recently. In both cases, we're actually catching up with the first singles that were released a few months back.

"Black Tree" from King of Spades, the latest album by Nashville/Atlanta duo Fox Grin. It's a shimmering number with a nouveau-prog sound.

And "We Can Pretend" from the Keepsake album by New York-based Elizabeth and the Catapult. It's a sweet-and-a-bit-sad song reflecting on childhood and how it shapes us: "All we are now is what we choose to remember."

As always we welcome your suggestions about music and musicians that you think would fit in well on Birch Street Radio. Contact us on this page, on Facebook or Twitter or at birchstreetradio@gmail.com. And thanks for listening!

Sunday, January 28, 2018

John Gorka, Sarah Cripps, Barrence Whitfield and more in this week's New Music bin

John Gorka has been one of our favorite singer-songwriters since we caught him at a folksinger show in New York in the 1980s, so we were very glad to come upon his latest release, True In Time. Recorded in just a few days of "live" sessions in a Minneapolis studio, with his long-time producer Rob Genadek at the helm, the album is the next-best thing to one of his coffeehouse concerts. We're adding "Nazarene Guitar" to our New Music bin. It features backing vocals by frequent collaborator Lucy Kaplansky and pedal steel by Joe Savage, and opens with a typically self-deprecating, deadpan line: "The cool people had a meeting, decided that I wasn't one of them / So I took my Nazarene guitar and played it all the way to Bethlehem." Pennsylvania, that is.

Thanks to Canadian Beats for introducing us to Sarah Cripps, who just released her self-titled second album. Previously considered a country musician, she took a few years off from music and has reemerged as a singer-songwriter with a wide-ranging, dark-tinged pop sound. Cripps told Atwood Magazine she was "going through a turbulent transition" while making the album. The lead track, "Leave Behind," "is a reflection of losing myself and some of my lowest moments - ultimately, it’s the turning point that gave me the guts to just embrace the weirdness.” We're spinning that track, and will soon be adding more.

We have to admit our familiarity with Awolnation is pretty much limited to "Sail," the quirky 2011 single that managed to run up the charts several separate times. The third album from the Los Angeles multi-instrumentalist Aaron Bruno, Here Come the Runts, comes out this week, and the latest single, "Handyman," caught our ear. It jump-cuts from gentle acoustic passages to rumbles of distorted guitar, with lyrics that also jump around from wistful memories of love ("If only yesterday took place tomorrow") to a line about being afraid of the government.   

Of course, we like to mix up our music and jump from genre to genre, so let's turn next to the raucous roadhouse sound of Barrence Whitfield and the Savages. This Boston-based outfit has been churning out its own blend of blues-rock, soul and funk since the 1970s. We were lucky enough to catch one of its local shows sometime in the mid-80s and were blown away by the band and its frontman's over-the-top energy. It's great to hear they've got a new album coming out, and ya gotta love the title: Soul Flowers of Titan. And the equally out-there title of the first single: "Let's Go To Mars." This rocket trip is powered by blasts of guitar, horns and the captain's commanding voice.

Denver-based Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats also has a reputation for great live shows, with its mix of guitar, horns, piano and sturdy vocals. Although their first album, and the single "S.O.B.," won the band a big following, it frankly didn't really grab us. But their latest tune, "You Worry Me," has worked its way into our ears and reaches our playlist this week. Its pensive lyrics are set against quick-paced, upbeat music that give them a hopeful mood.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

New music by David Byrne, Sunflower Bean, Caitlin Canty & introducing The Recoupes

A lot of commercial radio stations are so stuck in their formats that they won't play new releases by long-established artists. But we're always happy to hear new music from "old masters." So we're adding the first single from David Byrne's forthcoming American Utopia to our New Music playlist this week. The album, due in March, reunites Byrne with Brian Eno and includes many other collaborators. The single, "Everybody's Coming To My House," was co-written by Eno. Byrne is planning an extensive tour behind the album, including a stop at Coachella.
Also due in March is the third album by Sunflower Bean. Twentytwo In Blue will include the single "I Was A Fool," which we've been playing for a couple of months, and a second single has just spin out, called "Crisis Fest." Stereogum says that on this track, the Brooklyn-based trio "diverts from the dreamy indie-rock that ran throughout their 2016 debut album, Human Ceremony, toward an energetic mix of classic rock and pop rock."
Shifting to the singer-songwriter vein, we have a new single from Caitlin Canty, her first full-length collection since 2015's Reckless Skyline. “Take Me For A Ride” is a slow, contemplative number featuring a regret-tinged vocal backed by guitar and mournful pedal-steel. “The song is a take on the frustration in circling back to a vice or a person that you’ve been trying to quit,” Canty told American Songwriter. It will be the opening track on the Vermont-born, Nashville-based Canty's Motel Bouquet.


From the bars and clubs of London and Essex comes a young quartet called The Recoupes. They've started to get some airplay in the U.K. and they're about to release a single, "All I Know." It's a bouncy rocker that frontman Alan Li says is about "knowing that you can’t be perfect – especially when you’re young, and feel like you’re still getting the hang of life. But despite that, you find someone who accepts that and you want to give your all to them.” Ah, young love!

And we're dipping back into the recent EP by Common Deer, called simply II. We've been playing the exuberant "Wait!" and now we're featuring "Gone," a somewhat more pensive track that still features the Toronto quintet's expansive, cinematic sound.

We're always on the hunt for new music and new artists, and we're open to your suggestions. Comment on this page, contact us on Facebook or Twitter, or email us: birchstreetradio@gmail.com