Saturday, December 9, 2017

This week's picks: Brand-new music plus more of 2017's best

Our regular listeners have heard The Defending Champions, a band that expands on the punk-ska genre, adding bits of Latin flavor and pure bar-band fun. They've just released Don't Stop, their third full-length collection, filled with jumping arrangements of horns, guitar and percussion. Our correspondent in their home state of New Jersey caught their CD-release show (pictured) and reports super-tight playing and a joyous vibe. We've been spinning the pre-released single, "Listen In," and now we're putting the title track in our featured New Music bin.

From London's alternative-rock scene comes Talma, a five-piece outfit that's also known for putting on energetic live shows. Their sound has been called a blend of The Smiths and The National. Frontman Henry Adams says their new single, "Lifeline," is about life in the big city: "There are moments where it seems no one can see you, yet everyone is watching you. This paranoia can drive people away from the city, and so we look for lifelines to tether us to the places we try to call home."

The end of the year is a big time for releasing holiday music and re-issues - none of which fits into our New Music bin. So it's a good time to reach back for good music that was released earlier in the year but for one reason or another hasn't found its way to our playlist until now.

So we're catching up with Land of Talk, the Montreal-based project of singer-composer Elizabeth Powell. Following the success of the band's 2010 album Cloak and Cipher, Powell felt "the need to retreat a bit," and that break turned into an extended hiatus. This year she and her band re-emerged with Life After Youth. Pitchfork called it "a solid, consistent return that sounds like the band never left," and CBC music placed it among the top 10 albums of the year. Better late than never, we're featuring the reflective song "This Time."
And we're dipping back into two albums released earlier this year that previously featured in our New Music playlist:

The Dream Syndicate: How Did I Find Myself Here? Speaking of returns from hiatus, these veterans of the "paisley underground" scene returned from a nearly 30-year coffee break with a worthy entry into today's alt-rock realm. We've been playing "Glide" (and occasionally the 11-minute title opus) and we're now putting "Filter Me Through You" into our New Music rotation.
The Right Now: Starlight. This Chicago band was one of our favorite discoveries this year. We've been playing several tracks from this rollicking collection of 60s-R&B-influenced numbers and we can't resist featuring one more - which would make a good New Year's Eve party song. It's called "Up All Night." (No, it's not the Beck song.)

Guess what we're NOT doing in the next couple of weeks. 
  • Playing Christmas/Holiday music (except maybe some occasional tunes on Dec. 25).
  • Ranking the year's music in some kind of Top 10/40/100 list (though we'll put an extra emphasis on 2017 music on Dec. 31).
We're betting you can find all the holiday tunes and end-of-year lists you desire elsewhere. We'll stick to bringing you the best mix we can of music from this year and the previous fifty or so!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

New Music from Common Deer, Sjowgren, Danielia Cotton, Ramona Rose and, oh yeah, U2!

Photo by Wally Jay Parker
Toronto-based Common Deer only started releasing music this year - putting out an EP in January and another in September (I & II) - but has already made a big impression with their expansive orchestral-pop sound.

The quintet consists of Graham McLaughlin (guitar, violin), siblings Sheila Hart-Owens (keyboards) and Adam Hart-Owens (cello, guitar, synth) and siblings Liam Farrell (percussion, synth, samples) and Connor Farrell (bass). McLaughlin and Hart-Owens trade vocals. We were a little slow to catch up with this band, but once we got a chance to listen to "Wait," a single from the second EP, we were instant fans. This exuberant track is just one highlight from a great batch of freshman-year work. It's one of our featured New Music tracks this week, and you'll be hearing plenty more from I & II in our big mix.

In the past couple of weeks, California indie outfit Sjowgren has released three new singles. That brings their total output to five singles and three demos since they started releasing tracks last year. We don't know much about this band, and apparently that's the way they like it. They're believed to be from the San Francisco Bay area but haven't provided any other information. Yet their debut single "Seventeen" drew plenty of notice (including ours) and the latest tracks are bound to bring them more. Our pick for the New Music bin is "Stubborn Forces."

We're happy to hear new music from Danielia Cotton, whose powerful voice caught our attention last year with "A Prayer." We were latecomers: the New Jersey-born, New York-based singer-songwriter has been performing and releasing music for over a decade. As Philadelphia's WXPN has written, Cotton "draws on a wide range of influences, from Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones to Mavis Staples and Etta James." The new album, The Mystery of Me, ranges from soulful ballads to upbeat rockers like our featured pick, the Motown-flavored "4 Ur Life."

We've written before about artists outside America who are making "Americana" music. Add to that list England's Ramona Rose. The singer-songwriter told Vents Magazine she moved to Leeds "as a shy 18-year-old with a battered acoustic guitar and no clue what I was doing." (She's now all of 22). "I’ve always loved country and folk music – the way they tell stories has been a source of inspiration to me for as long as I can remember, and I was listening to a lot of it at the time of writing this track." Her new single, "Grand Canyon," uses that American landmark as a symbol for a lover's promises that go unfulfilled.

The other act joining our New Music rotation this week needs no introduction. With the release of U2's Songs of Experience, we're adding "Get Out Of Your Own Way," with its hopeful message of self-actualization. On first listen, the album strikes us as uneven, mixing optimism with awkward attempts at political commentary and a few lyrical clunkers ("Democracy is flat on its back, jack"). And, sorry, but we've trimmed off the Kendrick Lamar sermon at the end of "Get Out..." because we find it more jarring than inspirational. Still, there are few bands in the world whose body of work can match U2's, and we remain committed fans.
Please let us know what you think of the music mix on Birch Street Radio, and send us your suggestions for more artists to discover! Comment here, on Twitter or Facebook, or by email: