Sunday, November 26, 2017

'80s echoes and more indie sounds added to our New Music bin

On first listen to The Heroic Enthusiasts, one might wonder if they're an overlooked New Wave band. This Rochester, N.Y.-based quartet embraces "the ethos of '80s new romanticism." Although the band is relatively new - formed in 2014 by singer/guitarist James Tabbi and guitarist Thomas Ferrara and now rounded out by Mike James and Anthony Molina - its members aren't youngsters trying to be retro. In an early interview with Rochester's City Newspaper, Tabbi said of the band's sound: "If I had to make some parallels through history it would be like Echo and the Bunnymen, Radiohead, Coldplay. ... We know and lived those decades musically and physically, so we draw on all that history." They've just released their first LP, self-titled. Our featured pick is "New York Made Me," a paean to that big city at the other end of the New York Thruway.

We previously featured the single "Lights Out" from the latest release by Montreal's Chair Warriors. This trio draws influences from the likes of Muse, Coldplay and Smashing Pumpkins. The seven-track EP has been out for a few months now, and we're dipping back into it to pull out an uplifting, anthemic track, "So Alive."

Speaking of dipping back into a recent release by a Montreal band, we're adding "Real Thing" by Stars to our New Music bin this week. We've been playing "Fluorescent Light" since the October release of There Is No Love In Fluorescent Light. As it happens, "Real Thing" was actually the first single, and came out back in August. But we follow our own timetable here at BSR, not bound to trivial things like release dates or chart positions. (Or maybe we just missed it, but, better late than never.)

Continuing our usual genre-jumping, we turn to New York singer-songwriter Holly Miranda, whose next album, Mutual Horse, is due next year. The first track to drop, "Exquisite," features Miranda's frequent collaborator, Kyp Malone of TV On The Radio. Miranda told Consequence of Sound that the co-written song is her “favorite thing we have ever done together,” and is “partly about our longtime friendship and conversations about taking inventory and responsibility for your mistakes and shortcomings.”

Another male-female duet we're featuring this week has a more country/folk sound. Swearingen & Kelli are a musical couple: Pennsylvania native AJ Swearingen met Michigan-born Jayne Kelli at a writers' showcase in Florida and ended up "partners in life and music." Of their new album, The Marrying Kind, Swearingen says, "We really dialed in our Americana country sound on this album. I used lap-steel on many of the songs." Our featured pick, "You Run Away," has its share of steel and country flavor, but with a late-70s pop sensibility that would blend nicely with Eagles or even some Fleetwood Mac.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

This week's picks: Band of Rascals, The Elephant Trees, Sunflower Bean, I'm With Her, LOZT

Music variety is our brand, and this week our New Music picks range from hard rock through pop to acoustic folk.

Vancouver Island-based rockers Band of Rascals have just released their second EP, Tempest. Noisetrade.com calls it "an in your face rock album, which pairs guitars with thundering drums that underline the soaring rock vocals of lead singer Sam Trainor." There's a lot of energy packed into our featured track, "Seas Coming Down." But it's not all loud-hard-fast on this record. They also try out a folksier, Mumford/Lumineers-ish sound on "Fell Into The Love Of You," and we'll be giving that some spins, too.

Veering into a poppier style of rock, we bring you the debut single by an outfit from Manchester, England, called The Elephant Trees. As far as we know they just have a few singles to their name so far but they're picking up airplay and fans in the UK. We're picking up the single "Open Up." Songwriter and vocalist Martha Philips says it's "a story of falling in love with someone when you're not ready to fall," and the bouncy two-and-a-half-minute track captures that head-spinning feeling.

It's not such a big jump from that to the smooth new single from Sunflower Bean, "I Was A Fool." It's the Brooklyn trio's first release since it made a splash last year with its debut album, Human Ceremony. Consequence of Sound says "the jaunty number recalls Fleetwood Mac, and features more of the buoyant guitars and call-and-response vocals of Nick Kivlen and Julia Cumming that helped make the band’s debut so charming."

Now we shift to a couple of new numbers featuring acoustic instruments and harmonies.

I'm With Her, the folk super-trio of Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz, and Aoife O’Donovan, will release its debut full-length album, See You Around, in February. The recent single "Little Lies," which we featured this summer, apparently won't be on the LP, but we now have the lovely title track. The album was recorded at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios in Bath, England - much of it in live takes. This is flawless music produced by masters of their craft.


Back in March we were introduced to Tom Ryder, a singer-songwriter from Essex, England, and we picked up his amusing song "Here We Go Again." Now Ryder and California singer-songwriter Lauren Scudder have formed a "trans-Atlantic folk-pop duo," called LOZT. They plan to release their debut single early next year - but in the meantime, we have a song they recorded live for Cambridge-based Bridge Sessions, called "Turmoil." Their interwoven voices, with the simple accompaniment of acoustic guitar and caj√≥n, produce a beautiful sound on this ballad about the confusion that comes with new love.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Our latest picks: Mavis Staples, Robert Plant, Bryde, Chelsea Reed and Oh Pep!

The wonderful Mavis Staples is about to release If All I Was Was Black, a collaboration with Jeff Tweedy. Continuing in the socially conscious vein that goes back to her early work with the Staple Singers, she addresses the current divisions that leave people feeling "lonely in the land of the free." The songs are written by Tweedy, who told the Los Angeles Times that he recognizes "it's a very presumptuous thing" for a white man to write songs about race relations for the perspective of a black woman. “But I don’t think I put anything in Mavis’ mouth that she didn’t want to sing," he said. And Staples told the newspaper that she and Tweedy "come from the same church, which is that we want to save the world. These songs are what I’ve been doing my whole life.” Our featured pick is the let's-come-together song, "Build A Bridge."

Robert Plant's Carry Fire has been out for about a month now, and we've previously featured "Bones of Saints." As that song settles back into our big playlist, we're adding another to our New Music bin: "The May Queen." Consequence of Sound said of this track: "Eastern rhythms are given a warm vibe with the psychedelic leanings of guitar. Using American folk instrumentation to play altered versions of foreign melodies creates an intoxicating mood." The title, of course, winks at "Stairway to Heaven" - as Plant says of this album, "I must mix old with new."

These next three artists are all making their debuts on Birch Street Radio. Big shout-out to the excellent new-music resource The Revue for turning us on to Oh Pep! and Bryde, and to Canada Beats for introducing us to Chelsea Reed.

Oh Pep! is the Melbourne-based duo of Olivia Hally (guitar, vocals) and Pepita Emmerichs (fiddle, mandolin). The Revue says their new single, "Half Life," marks a shift from indie-folk to a more upbeat pop sound. "Hally and Emmerichs use the unique sounds of their classical instruments to create this shimmering number. The plucks of the fiddle, for instance, act like electronic beats; the steely fiddle echos the synth; and the drums sound like drums (such a unique thought these days!)."

From Australia we jump to Canada, following the path of Chelsea Reed. An Australian native now based in Toronto, she's released her debut full-length album, self-titled. Her music is largely piano-based, and she cites Elton John and Carole King among her influences. But the track we're featuring, "Empty Hearts," stands out for its rich instrumentation, including horns and strings. Her vocals remind us a bit of Aimee Mann. Expect to hear more of Reed in our mix.

Next we globe-hop to Wales, whence hails singer-songwriter Sarah Howell, who has put together an indie-rock-ish band for her new project, Bryde. On the new single "Desire," over punchy percussion and bass, she sings about "our need for instant gratification, about desire’s addictive qualities and how they can make us behave."


Sunday, November 5, 2017

Big Head Todd & the Four More Artists added to our mix this week

We've been playing the early singles from Big Head Todd and the Monsters' New World Arisin' and now that the full album is out we're picking up the title track. Frontman Todd Park Mohr says it's inspired by the Delta blues of Charley Patton. "Melodically, that song derives from an old gospel song that I heard Patton do. I turned it into a rock song ... it sort of has a heavy metal/gospel feel." The album features a good variety of sounds - and you know we like that - so you'll hear other tracks popping up in our mix as well.

Sam Valdez is a Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter who's only released a few singles so far but has been been getting a lot of critical attention. Her latest, "It's Alright," has been called a blend of Americana and shoegaze. As usual, words (and labels) don't work well in describing music. But give a listen and see if you agree that this emerging artist shows tremendous promise.

From farther up the West Coast comes Lovecoast, a "soul pop" band that hails from Victoria, B.C. CBC Music said "Danielle Sweeney's sweet but slightly gritty vocals accompanied by some '80s-influenced pop makes for a super catchy" sound, and their latest single certainly lives up to that description. It's called "Lonely" but it's not about feeling that way; it's about wishing that the object of your crush was is in need of a new friend.

We spin the globe to Northern Ireland and catch up with an indie-folk band called Runabay. Formed in late 2013, they have a sound that might remind you of Fleet Foxes or Real Estate, but with some extra richness in the harmonies and instrumentation (including cello). Their latest single "Too Soon (Reverie)" is "an introspective song about the implications of indecision," says frontman John McManus.

And we make another big genre-shift by turning to the cool dance-pop of Rhye. This duo consists of Toronto-born Michael Milosh and Denmark native Robin Hannibal. The two began their collaboration in Europe and resumed it after separately moving to Los Angeles. They released one album in 2013, and have resurfaced this year with a few singles, apparently previewing an upcoming album. With Milosh's androgynous vocals and slinky sound, Rhye mixes well with Marian Hill and Sylvan Esso. We're adding "Taste" to the New Music bin.