Sunday, September 17, 2017

New this week: U2, Dhani Harrison, Lone Bellow, Crooked Weather & .imp

Once again our New Music picks for the week range from big stars to lesser-known indies. We'll start this post with the biggest of the big: U2. It's fashionable in some circles to dismiss this band as so-last-century, but there's no denying it has an excellent body of work behind it - and that it's still capable of making top-notch rock/pop. "You're The Best Thing About Me," the new single from its upcoming LP Songs of Experience, may not be cutting-edge but it's a fine, solid track. And while it gives the initial impression of being a happy love song, the lyric is actually about self-defeating behavior: "The best things are easy to destroy ... Why am I walking away?"

Dhani Harrison is ready to stand on his own. After performing in various bands and writing music and TV scores, he's releasing his debut solo album, In///Parallel, next month. So far, two tracks have emerged -- "All About Waiting" and "Admiral Of Upside Down." The former blends psych rock and indie elements and, yes, reminds us Beatles fans of his dad's work. Camila Grey, formerly of the LA band Uh Huh Her, is featured on backing vocals. ("Admiral" is a dreamy number that murmurs along for about four minutes and then gets dramatically louder - but, sorry, it just doesn't work for us.)

London-based producer James Hargreaves released an EP under the name .imp ("dot-imp") earlier this year, and is now getting some traction with a single from it called "Pull Me Over." Hargreaves describes it as a song about "the grind of repetition in everyday life and using music as an escape," built around a looped bass line that he says is "a musical representation of exactly that." We find it catchy, and a pleasant few minutes of escapism. It's hard to put .imp in a musical category; each track on the EP, Headscrambler, has a different style, mostly much edgier and noisier than this one.

"Americana" is one of those musical categories that can't be clearly defined beyond "I know it when I hear it, sorta." And its blurry boundaries are pointed up by the fact that musicians from the UK, Canada and other countries are grouped in with its U.S. practitioners. After all, the Americana Music Awards named Mumford & Sons as Emerging Arist of the Year in 2011 and this month gave Van Morrison a Lifetime Achievement-Songwriting award. So maybe the English quartet Crooked Weather belongs in that club - or maybe not. Their acoustic music has been described as "haunting," "ethereal" and a cross between indie-folk and World Music. We're pleased to feature their new single, "Rabbit Holes." (P.S.: Crooked Weather hail from Hull, the U.K.'s 2017's City of Culture, as does another indie band we've featured, Pavey Ark.)

Another phenomenon in the Americana movement is the frequent appearance of bands that formed in U.S. cities, as opposed to the countryside - a throwback, perhaps, to the Greenwich Village folk revival of the 1960s. The Lone Bellow, for example, emerged from the Brooklyn music scene. But for its third album, Walk Into A Storm, the band moved to Nashville and recorded in the historic RCA Studio A with producer Dave Cobb, who has worked with Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell. We've been playing the single "Time's Always Leaving," and now that the full album is out you'll be hearing several tracks in our mix. Our feature pick for the week is "Feather," a rollicking track with Kanene Donehey Pipkin taking the lead vocal.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

New music in our mix: Caroline Reese, Pavey Ark, Alvvays, The National, Iron & Wine

We've been playing music by indie singer-songwriter Caroline Reese for several months now, and we're happy to be one of the first radio outlets to hop on Two Horses, her brand-new EP. Reese, who grew up in Reading, Pennsylvania, and now spends most of her off-the-road time in Montana, returned to her home state to make this record on an old farm. The songs and arrangements are more stripped-down than on the album she released earlier this year with her band, The Drifting Fifth. The songs were recorded in about a week's time, she says, and "we kept the performances relaxed and semi-live." Our pick for the New Music bin is "Nicotine," a look back at teenage explorations involving cigarettes, cars and love. It features lap-steel guitar by Brad Hinton, cello by Matt Kolodzieski and backing vocals by another singer-songwriter you've heard on Birch Street Radio, Lizzie No.

Dipping back into the debut release by English band Pavey Ark, we're adding the title track, "Leaf by Leaf," to our playlist this week. "It's a song about our home city, Hull," the band has posted. "It's about optimism, things getting better bit by bit." The band's array of acoustic string instruments is accented nicely on this track by a trumpet feature.

The second album from Toronto's Alvvays, called Antisocialites, came out a few days ago. After previously featuring the early single "In Undertow," we're picking up "Dreams Tonite" - wherein lead singer Molly Rankin looks back on a failed relationship and wonders, "If I saw you on the street, would I have you in my dreams tonight?" In what may be a musical first, this song works in a reference to Eisenhower, to rhyme with hour.

The National's new release, Sleep Well Beast, is being hailed by critics, and while we're not as enraptured as some by the peculiar lyrics and stylings of Matt Berninger and company, we've been enjoying "The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness" along with everyone else. Now we're featuring "Guilty Party," with its remarkably straightforward lyric about a romantic breakup: "It's nobody's fault / No guilty party / We just got nothing / Nothing left to say."

Iron & Wine's new album has a similarly zoological title, Beast Epic, and from that we're pulling another end-of-love song in which the narrator is more willing to place blame. In "Bitter Truth," Sam Beam sings, "Let's be honest, we were strongest till I let you drag me down / I was sorry then, I'm not now."

Sunday, September 3, 2017

New music by War On Drugs, Shawna Caspi, Jessica Lea Mayfield, Liam Gallagher and more

There's a lot of buzz about A Deeper Understanding, the new release from The War On Drugs. The fourth album from Philadelphia-based Adam Granduciel and his band is certainly a worthy successor to its big breakthrough, 2014's Lost In The Dream. We've been playing and enjoying the single "Holding On" and now we're featuring "Nothing To Find," which sounds a bit like a Dylan song on speed. We'll be spinning more tracks from this album, too, but TBH we prefer it in single-song doses rather than on continuous play, as there is a bit of sameness to the sound from one song to the next.

We're not always the first to jump on a new record, and we've been slow to pick up on Manchester Orchestra's hit single, "The Gold," from the Atlanta band's fifth studio album, A Black Mile to the Surface. We'll make up for that by playing the full version of the track instead of the abbreviated "radio edit."

On the other hand, we're among the early adopters of Toronto singer-songwriter Shawna Caspi's new album, Forest Fire. It's just been officially released, but we've been playing the single "Never Enough" for several weeks. As that is one of the darker songs in the collection, we're now opting to add the upbeat "Love In A Moving Van" to our New Music rotation. Other highlights that you'll hear in our mix include "Numbers Game" and the Lynn Miles song "Brave Parade."

The lead single from Ohio singer-songwriter Jessica Lea Mayfield's upcoming album is sonically upbeat, but the lyric isn't so cheery. "Sorry Is Gone" is a break-up song that speaks of a break-away into independence. Mayfield told NPR Music that the song, written as she was separating from her husband and former co-producer, "represents my last apology, an apology for no longer being sorry."

Speaking of apologies, the new single from Liam Gallagher, of all people, is a bit of a mea culpa. In an interview with Noisey, he acknowledges that "For What It's Worth" is about regrets. But clearly the punk attitude is still there: "Obviously I've made a lot of mistakes. That's life. I guess it is an apology to whoever. I've pissed a lot of people off. But I'm certainly not gonna write a song for each and every one of them. There's one there. F---in' deal with it and move on." Gallagher also has called the track "the most Oasis-y song on the album," and we certainly agree, as it sometimes sounds like a chorus of "Don't Look Back In Anger" is about to break out.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

This week's new music picks: Lynne & Moorer, Kacy & Clayton, Dream Syndicate and more

Photo by Jacob Blickenstaff
Sisters Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer both have established careers as singer-songwriters, but haven't recorded together until now. They did a joint tour in 2012, then started a project together but shelved it for a while before trying again. "Despite the buildup of anticipation," NPR wrote, the "long-awaited joint album feels unburdened by expectations." Not Dark Yet features one original tune and a selection of covers that, along with "the sparseness of Teddy Thompson's production, helps place the focus squarely on the voices, how phenomenally well-matched they are in their suppleness, how they resist and yield to each other." We're spinning the title track, a cover of a Bob Dylan song from his 1997 album Time Out Of Mind.

Photo by Chris Sikich
When The Dream Syndicate came around the first time in the early 1980s they were part of the punk/underground/garage reaction to mainstream electronic pop. The band ended before that decade did - but frontman Steve Wynn and drummer Dennis Duck revived it in recent years for sporadic live shows, then headed into the studio and came out with How Did I Find Myself Here? “It sounds like everything that I loved about the Dream Syndicate and yet sounds unlike any other record we made,” said Wynn. The Syndicate stands out, again, amid today's current wave of electronic pop. But the raw jangle of its early days has morphed into a fuller, more rounded sound, with jam-band elements - especially in the 11-minute title track. You'll hear that occasionally in our mix, but our pick for the New Music bin, "Glide," clocks in at a mere 6:22.

The Canadian duo Kacy & Clayton take us back to an even earlier time, with a sound that evokes the 1960s English folk revival, with a dash of California folk-rock from the same period. The Siren's Song is the third album from vocalist Kacy Anderson and fingerstyle guitarist Clayton Linthicum, and even the cover looks like it belongs in a rack of 60s vinyl. You'll get a good taste of their sound from our pick for the New Music bin, "The Light Of Day."

Our other New Music picks were actually released a few months back, but it's not too late to catch up:

Courtney Barnett's "How To Boil An Egg" is a reworking of one of her earliest songs, with the self-deprecating worldview that we've come to know well. "I've been dreamin', dreamin' of a brand-new start," she sings, voicing the passive approach to life of so many 20-somethings. As it happens, her tales of the mundane struck chords around the world, bringing her more success than she could have been dreaming of back then. On this recording, she gave the song a full-band treatment, but played every instrument herself.

BNQT (pron: banquet) brings together members of indie bands Franz Ferdinand, Grandaddy, Band of Horses, Travis, and Midlake. Eric Pulido of Midlake conceived this project, and each of the members contributed a couple of songs to an album they optimistically entitled Volume 1. They've described themselves as a "poor man's version of the Traveling Wilburys," and the song we're adding to our New Music playlist - one of Pulido's contributions, "Real Love" - has a similar easygoing vibe.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

New music by Van Morrison, Joan Osborne, Bridget Kelly, Fastball & more

Our blogger is heading off on vacation so this week's notes on our New Releases are a little rushed, but here goes:

One of the masters, Van Morrison, has a new album - we think it's his 37th! - coming out next month. It includes some blues and soul covers as well as original songs, and we've added one of those, "Transformation," to our New Music bin. Another master, Jeff Beck, guests on guitar.

Another good pairing: Joan Osborne is bringing out an album of Bob Dylan songs. We'll be playing several selections, but our feature pick this week is "Buckets of Rain."

Remember Fastball? We have to admit to losing track of this Austin, Texas, band since its late '90s breakout with All The Pain Money Can Buy and the single "The Way." But they've kept on keeping on, and released Step Into Light earlier this year. We're catching up now with a song called "We're On Our Way."

We turn on the electric blues with the Bridget Kelly Band, a group from Florida led by singer Kelly and her husband, guitarist Tim Fik. Bone Rattler is the name of their fourth album, and we're featuring a don't-let-the-door-hit-you-in-the-butt song called "Ain't Missin' You."

Our other pick for the New Music playlist this week is a timely track from Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit's The Nashville Sound. It's called "White Man's World." We'll let it speak for itself.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Josh Ritter, Hemming, The Kents & more new music added to our mix

Josh Ritter is bringing out a new album, Gathering, next month. Ritter tells NPR Music that the album title is a reference to storms building up, either in the atmosphere or internally. The first song to spin out, "Showboat," is narrated by "a big talker who carries deep inner uncertainties and struggles to keep a strong front against the world raging around him."

We return to the vibrant Philadelphia indie-music scene for the latest release by Hemming, the band led by singer-songwriter Candice Martello that we've featured before on Birch Street Radio. "Counting Stones" is a dark, piano-based ballad with a plaintive vocal lamenting a broken relationship: "I can see right through the ground / And I'm counting every single stone / That's how far I let you get me down." Hemming will be touring with Philly friends Cayatana starting with September dates in Brooklyn, Toronto, Detroit and Chicago.

Another indie act that we've featured before is Ontario quartet The Kents. They put out an EP last year and now follow up with a single, "Is There Anyone?" Lead vocalist and guitarist Warren Frank says it's "about trying to find one's place amidst the constant barrage of opinions that social media has become." Over a jittery, syncopated beat, he sings, "Is there anyone ... to tell me all the things I need to hear."

One of the current practitioners of "retro" or "vintage" rock is J.D. McPherson, who played with a rockabilly band in his home state of Oklahoma before setting out solo. Now living in Nashville (where it seems damn near every type of music is being crafted and innovated these days), he's bringing out his third album, Undivided Heart & Soul, in October. The first single is a tale about a run of misfortune, called "Lucky Penny."

Also joining our new music rotation this week is the latest from Big Head Todd and the Monsters, "Damaged One." The veteran guitar-rockers from Colorado apparently have an album due this fall, although we haven't been able to find its title or any other info. We figure it's a good bet it will also include the band's previous single, last year's "Wipeout Turn."

Hear these five picks-of-the-week in our big 24/7 mix on Birch Street Radio on your favorite media player - Or hear them together right now in this set on MixCloud:

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Americana, Canadian alt-rock and more new music

We're featuring another very eclectic batch of New Music this week, ranging from the delicately beautiful sound of a female folk trio to the multi-layered sounds of young alt-rock bands.

They may not be household names in pop circles, but Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O'Donovan are superstars in the realm of folk, bluegrass and Americana. They've come together on and off in the past couple of years to perform as I'm With Her, a project that the New York Times described as an alliance of virtuosos. Violinist Watkins, guitarist O'Donovan and multi-instrumentalist Jarosz, songwriters all, meld their singing and playing beautifully. They finally have an EP coming out soon, and we're featuring the first track to emerge, "Little Lies."

Montreal alt-rockers Chair Warriors make their Birch Street Radio debut this week with "Lights Out," the first track to emerge from an upcoming EP called Dawn of Edo (a Japanese-history reference). The trio of vocalist/keyboardist Brandon Mignacca, guitarist Robert Flis and drummer Gopal Devanathan produces an expansive sound influenced by bands like Muse. Mignacca says of this song, "Lights Out is about the idea of seeing things for what they truly are. City lights deny us the chance to view the stars, among other things. It’s when the lights are out that you can truly see what the universe holds both externally and internally."

Also on our playlist for the first time is Oakland, California's Day Wave. It's the solo project of Jackson Phillips, a singer-songwriter who fleshes out his songs with guitar, synth and drums to give them a psych-pop sound. Following a couple of EPs, he released his first full-length, The Days We Had, a few months back. We're catching up with the catchy "Something Here."

Our other featured picks this week are:
  • Another track from Little Hurricane's most recent release, Same Sun, Same Moon. The California duo continues in its optimistic vein with "Isn't It Great."
  • And the ever-optimistic, unstoppable Ringo Starr has a new album coming out next month, Give More Love. We're adding the title track, wherein Ringo keeps alive the Beatles' love-is-all-you-need philosophy - which indeed we need in these times.

We play one of our 15 latest New Music picks at the top of each hour of our live stream. You can also listen to the latest five picks, listed above, in this set on Mixcloud.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Latest picks: Arcade Fire, Shawna Caspi, The Lone Bellow & more

Arcade Fire's Everything Now made its full debut this past week, and it's getting rather mixed reviews -- as often happens when a band is deemed Important and the critical bar is set very high. The album is indeed a bit uneven, and some of the lyrics are preachy or trite. But rather than look for flaws, we look for solid tracks that will add flavor to our Marvelous Mix. We've been enjoying the title cut and "Signs Of Life," and now we're featuring "Put Your Money On Me" in our New Music bin.

We dip again this week into Broken Social Scene's Hug of Thunder album for "Halfway Home," a glorious commotion of guitar and strings and horn and voices that seems to keep all 13 or so band members busy. The lyric is mysterious and a bit harrowing: "You said we're halfway home / You said survive ... If you never run, never run / How they gonna catch you alive."

As we always strive to mix things up, our next pick this week comes from singer-songwriter Shawna Caspi, one of the independent artists we play regularly on Birch Street Radio. Her fourth album, Forest Fire, is due in September, and the first track to spin out is "Never Enough." It's a story of a mother's desperate prayer for her troubled son, "calling up to heaven and hoping for a little relief." Over a gentle acoustic arrangement, Caspi's bell-clear vocal is evocative but not sentimental.

Also coming in September is the third album from The Lone Bellow, Walk Into A Storm. The preview single, "Time's Always Leaving," is a rousing number with the trio's trademark full-throated harmonies, and a clever lyric about a personified Time that keeps looking at her watch, impatient to move on.

And from the Bellow's Brooklyn/Nashville folk-rock we jump to the California/Southern blues-rock-jam sound of the Chris Robinson Brotherhood. This hard-working crew is out with its fifth full-length album in as many years, Barefoot In The Head. AllMusic.com calls the ex-Black Crowes frontman and his bandmates "torchbearers, carrying hippie blues traditions into a new century." Our pick for this week's New Music bin is "Behold The Seer."

We play one of our latest 15 New Music picks at the top of each hour of our live stream. If you'd like to hear all five of them right now, here they are, made into a set on Mixcloud.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

This week's new-music picks: Banditos, The Georgia Flood, The Mrs & more

From Alabama by way of Nashville come the Banditos, a six-piece group that, like so many of the best new acts, mashes up various musical styles to create its own. Writing about their debut album, NPR said, “Three vocalists, a wicked guitarist who also plays pedal steel, a banjo, an upright bass and a hot-footed drummer guarantee that every song they play is stuffed with crazy rhythms and melodic energy.” They've just released their sophomore effort, Visionland, and it displays their wide range. We're putting bar-band-rocker "Fine Fine Day" into our New Music rotation this week, and we'll be spinning other tracks as well.

Another Southern-flavored rocker entering our new-releases bin comes from Atlanta-based The Georgia Flood, one of the many indie bands we've featured before on Birch Street Radio. The group consists of brothers Brooks Mason (vocals/guitar) and Lane Kelly (bass) plus their long-time high school friends, Gavin Deleshaw (guitar) and Damien Navarro (drums). It's only been six months or so since they released their debut album, but they're out with a new single, "Take A Hit."

When you think "new indie pop-band from Austin, Texas," you probably don't picture four moms in their 30s and 40s. But ... well, why not? Andra Liemandt was inspired by her daughter's music lessons to take up drumming. She and long-time friend and tech-company co-worker Jenny Mason, who plays bass, recruited keyboardist Larissa Ness and guitarist Mandy Prater to form The Mrs, both to express their creativity and to spread a message of empowerment for women and girls. From their self-produced debut album we're picking the extremely catchy "Somewhere To Go."

Rounding out our featured New Music picks this week are a couple of more-established artists, with additional tracks from their most-recent releases:

The ubiquitous Dan Auerbach, from his Waiting On A Song solo album, with the self-deprecating "King Of A One-Horse Town."

And the irrepressible Coldplay with the best track (in our opinion) to emerge from the new Kaleidoscope EP. The Brian Eno collaboration "A L I E N S" is a timely song of refugees, with a 5/4 rhythm giving it a suitably nervous feeling.

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We're trying something new this week: Using Mixcloud to give you our New Music picks in one package. We may do more with that platform in time. As always we welcome your feedback!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Many flavors on this week's new-music menu

This week's New Music picks range from Canadian folk, to Americana, to dream-pop, to Australian rock.

Tara MacLean lives on Canada's West Coast but grew up on the East Coast and celebrates the Atlantic music tradition on her first release in nine years, Atlantic Blue. Although a songwriter herself, here she devotes herself to covering works by other Atlantic artists. We've chosen the title track (written by the late Ron Hynes from Newfoundland) to feature in our New Music bin.

Folk and bluegrass traditions form the background for Avenhart, a six-piece from Denver. Members of the band came together in a Colorado University bluegrass ensemble, and were later joined by lead singer Andrea Pares. They began playing local venues and recording just last year, working with student-run label CAM Records to release their debut, self-titled EP. We're picking up on "Enough," a breakup song with the refrain "I never want to see you again / No matter how much I do."

Photo: Shawn Brackbill
Baltimore-area dreamers Beach House just released B-Sides and Rarities, a collection of singles, alternate mixes of past album cuts and two previously-unreleased songs from the Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars sessions. Pitchfork commented "It’s a testament to the band’s consistency that [it] plays nearly as smoothly as a proper Beach House album." We're putting one of the new songs, "Chariot," into our New Music rotation.

Only a year after the Turning Into Water EP brought Maybird to our attention, the group is back with Unraveling. Originally from Rochester, N.Y., and now based in Brooklyn, Maybird traveled to Nashville to work on this collection with The Black Keys' Patrick Carney. The result is a sound that's perhaps a bit poppier but with Maybird's signature combination of indie-folk and multi-layered psych-rock. We're featuring "Bluebird Flew Away."

And we're adding another track from the debut album by Melbourne's Jacobs Run. We've been spinning "Use" for about a month now. Now we're adding "Hold On A Minute," a rocker that brings to mind the likes of R.E.M. and Foo Fighters.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

From Toronto to Melbourne, our latest music picks

Toronto-based Broken Social Scene is often described as a collective rather than a band, as its members have participated in various configurations over the years while in many cases having separate solo careers. Its latest incarnation, after a seven-year hiatus, seems the biggest yet - 15 musicians put together the just-released collection Hug of Thunder. BSS is known for elaborate, multi-layered arrangements and that pattern is followed here. Each of the 12 tracks is distinctive, complex and intriguing. We've picked the title track, with lyrics and vocals by Feist, to feature in our New Music rotation, and many other tracks will be popping up in our mix.

From nearly the opposite side of the planet comes Sienna Wild, a trio from Melbourne that's doing its part to keep straight-ahead guitar rock alive in an era of synth/psych/dream pop. Here at Birch Street Radio we happily mix all styles - as long as we like the sound - and we're glad to help introduce local bands to a wider audience. In this case we start out with "Back Road Honey," which would sound as natural blasting from a barroom in the Southern U.S. as from the Ding Dong Lounge in the band's home town.

We spin the globe again and come to Provo, Utah, where singer-songwriter-harpist Goldmyth has released her debut EP, Faded Dream. Her music blends the delicate sounds of her voice and harp with layers of synth and percussion. We're picking up "Has To Be Better," whose lyric is an "I'm-not-coming-back-unless" message to an ex-lover.

The latest release from Philadelphia's Waxahatchee, Out In The Storm, drops next week, and we're very impressed with what we've heard so far. "Silver" is an immensely catchy track, and belongs in the category of cheerful-sounding songs with dark lyrics: "I went out in the storm / and I'm never returning." This marks the fourth album from Katie Crutchfield, part of a vibrant indie-music scene in the Philadelphia area.
And from Birmingham, England, we introduce you to singer-songwriter Hannah Brown. Her recent EP, Better For This, has been picking up airplay in the UK, particularly for the single, a fine pop tune called "Empty." But a more subdued song called "Stay" really grabbed us with its intimate vocal and a lyric about the confusion of a developing relationship: "If I ask you to go / ask you to stay / I can't explain ... Be bold and stay."