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Sunday, April 15, 2018

Our latest new-music picks: Florence + Snow Patrol + Bad Wolves + Saltwater Sun + Hey Ocean!

Florence + The Machine is preparing to release a new album, High As Hope in June. The first single, "Sky Full of Song," is scheduled to hit stores as a 7" vinyl single on Record Store Day, April 21st. Florence Welch describes it as "a song that just fell out of the sky fully formed. Sometimes when you are performing you get so high, it’s hard to know how to come down. There is this feeling of being cracked open, rushing endlessly outwards and upwards, and wanting somebody to hold you still, bring you back to yourself. It’s an incredible, celestial, but somehow lonely feeling."

Thanks to The Revue we recently discovered another female-fronted U.K. band, Saltwater Sun, and their new single, "The Wire." The song is a commentary on how the hyper-connectivity of modern society seems to be causing more division than unity. "There seems of late / A currency of hate," sings lead vocalist Jennifer Stearnes over ringing guitars and driving percussion. "Choose your words and make’em hurt / Get the final blow in first / Whatever gets the win.”

After working on solo projects for the past few years, the Vancouver-based trio Hey Ocean! has reunited and released The Hurt of Happiness. As Exclaim wrote, the band described the album "as seeking to bridge their pop and more experimental tendencies when announcing the record, and it largely succeeds ... bouncing between moods and styles with ease." Although hailing from the West Coast, David Beckingham, Ashleigh Ball, and David Vertesi put together a sound that reminds us a bit of an East Coast trio, Port Cities. Entering our new music bin is the album's title track, a mid-tempo number featuring tight harmonies among the three vocalists.

Our big mix doesn't usually include heavy-metal bands, but LA's Bad Wolves is out with a cover of The Cranberries' "Zombie" that is more of a melodic and lyrical hard-rock record. It's also a terrific song -- and still very relevant to our times, unfortunately, as new generations continue to fight old wars around the world. Its writer and original singer, Dolores O'Riordan, was scheduled to add her own vocal to the cover on the very day that she passed away. Bad Wolves singer Tommy Vext said in a statement, “It was the greatest honor to know she liked our version and wanted to sing on it. We’re deeply saddened by the sudden loss of Dolores and by the fact that she’s leaving behind three children so we are donating the proceeds from the song to her kids."

Also added to our new music bin this week, Snow Patrol's "Don't Give In," a message about resisting inner demons. Frontman Gary Lightbody says the song "was originally about a friend going through a tough time, but the more I wrote into it, I realised it was about me and the struggle of making the album ... coupled with the struggle with depression I’ve had since I was a kid, so it has become the talisman of the album. The song that became a self-fulfilling prophecy.” The album, Wildness, is due next month.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Our latest picks: Wye Oak, Eels, Alice Merton, Super Doppler, Flora Cash

Due to time constraints, we only have brief notes this week on our featured new music. But it's the music that matters, not our comments, right? Here are our latest picks:

Wye Oak: "Lifer" from their just-released album The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs. We'll also be dropping other tracks from this well-crafted album into our mix. Check out the good reviews it has received from Pitchfork, The 405 and NPR Music.

Eels: "You Are The Shining Light" from the new album The Deconstruction. The album title states its unifying theme of stripping away pretense and false hopes to deal with life as it really is and ourselves as we really are. In this song, the message is that the real you can be a positive force. Check out this review from American Songwriter.

Alice Merton: "Lash Out," from her debut No Roots EP. The title track got overexposed before we had a chance to feature it, but we're grabbing this one while it's fresh.

Super Doppler: "I Can Breathe." We featured this band from Norfolk, Virginia, about a year ago when they were about to release their debut album (under a different name, Major and the Monbacks, which they changed about 10 seconds before the release). Their music, which they have called "retro psych-country rock n roll," has heavy overtones of mid-era Beatles and a good-times vibe.
Flora Cash: "You're Somebody Else." Cole Randall, from the U.S., and Shpresa Lleshaj, from Sweden, met via an online music site, became collaborators and then husband and wife. Their folky/dreamy/pop album Nothing Lasts Forever (And It's Fine), came out a year ago, but is getting more attention after a SXSW appearance last month. The opening lyric of this single caught our attention right off: "I saw the part of you that, only when you're older, you will see, too."

Sunday, April 1, 2018

New music from Courtney Barnett, Natalie Prass, Anderson East, Gang of Youths, Midnight Shine

Courtney Barnett calls out misogynists, of both the online and IRL varieties, in "Nameless, Faceless" from her forthcoming LP Tell Me How You Really Feel. She addresses internet trolls as pathetic head cases ("You sit alone at home in the darkness / With all the pent-up rage that you harness / I'm real sorry / 'Bout whatever happened to you), as well as the violence that rage can produce ("I wanna walk through the park in the dark ... I hold my keys between my fingers"). She quotes Margaret Atwood ("Men are scared that women will laugh at them ... Women are scared that men will kill them." All this in a three-minute grunge-pop song, in her usual pithy observational style. Kim Deal (Pixies, The Breeders) contributes background vocals.

Photo credit: Sergey Osipov
Also from Australia, originally, and just beginning to draw wide notice on the other side of the Pacific, is Gang of Youths. Although based in the U.S. since 2013, the band has remained best-known in its former homeland, where its most recent release, Go Farther in Lightness, topped the charts and won three ARIA awards (comparable to the Grammys or the Junos). Their arena-friendly rock, with frontman Dave Le'aupepe's literate lyrics and passionate singing, draws comparisons to the likes of U2 and Arcade Fire. The gang is now getting serious buzz from its recent U.S. appearances at SXSW and on late-night TV, and a packed show at New York's Bowery Ballroom. Although the album came out in August, we're betting it's as "new" to most of you as it is to us. We're putting the single "The Heart Is A Muscle" into our New Music bin and will drop more tracks into our big mix.

We return now to northern Ontario's Midnight Shine, whose version of Neil Young's "Heart of Gold" was featured in our New Music bin a little over a month ago. While the band benefited from borrowed interest by covering that classic song (and adding an Indigenous twist), it's deserving of more attention for its original, rootsy rock music. We're now featuring another single from their new High Road album, "Velocity," which expresses a longing to slow down in a fast-paced world.

We've been slow to warm up to Nashville singer Anderson East. His gravel-voiced blue-eyed soul can feel a little too perfect at times, more imitative than authentic. But it's clear his love of Southern musical traditions is genuine, and it's undeniable that he and producer Dave Cobb are damn good at crafting records. Case in point: "Girlfriend" is a really fun listen, with its amusing love-triangle lyrics -- and its booming riffs from a killer horn section.

Natalie Prass made a splash a few years ago with her debut album of orchestral pop songs -- and now she's making waves again by taking her music in a new direction. The first two singles from her next collection, The Future and the Past, draw from R&B and disco. She joins our big mix with "Sisters," which SPIN calls "a strongly neo-soul-informed feminist anthem ... complete with jazz-piano spats, scatting, and a chorus of backing singers echoing 'Keep your sisters close / You gotta keep your sisters close to ya.'"

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Greetings from Birch Street Radio

Best wishes to all our listeners celebrating holidays this weekend.

And happy Spring to everyone in the Northern Hemisphere.

Our weekly New Music selections will debut a little later than usual this week, on Sunday evening. Check back here then.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

New music by Ellevator, Talma, Editors, Littless and Sarah Cripps added to our mix

Ellevator is a pop-rock band from Hamilton, Ontario, whose debut EP hasn't been released yet but is already getting attention from the likes of CBC Radio and Canadianbeats. We're featuring the single "New Survival," written by lead singer Nabi Sue Bersche. "I spent a lot of years trying to live up to other people’s high-hopes," Bersche says. "The song is about finding the person underneath all the noise and learning to live with them, even if I don’t always like them.”

We've previously featured London alt-rock band Talma and their single "Lifeline." Their second EP, Out To Sea, arrived recently and we're picking up on the opening track, "In Circles." Guitarist James Creed wrote the song "about the sense of apathy we can experience when returning to a routine lifestyle after time away from it all - the everyday, the mundane" - and the possibility to "step away from paths well-known and chase a new sense of meaning."

Birmingham, UK's Editors are out with their sixth album, Violence. As a reviewer on musicOMH put it,the title "suggests the perpetual gloom-mongers are about to explore new depths of darkness," but the album has "an emotional richness ... that brings some light to where there was once only darkness." Our featured track is, in fact, called "Darkness at the Door," but amid the obscurity of its lyrics there are suggestions that friendship can add that bit of light. 

Jumping back across the Atlantic to Philadelphia, we revisit Littless. Several weeks ago we started spinning "Better Left Unsaid" from the indie band's debut album, Less Precious, and now we're featuring "I've Been Waiting." Littles is the project of keyboardist Kyle Graham from another Philadelphia indie outfit, Hemming. It has an electro-pop sound grounded by sharp percussion and topped with multi-tracked vocals by Hemming's Candice Martello.

And we're dipping again into the self-titled album by Sarah Cripps, the Toronto singer-songwriter whose previous work was more country/roots oriented but who has shifted more toward a pop-alternative sound. We're adding "Caroline," which mixes layered vocals and keys with a pounding bass line and reminds us just a bit of the Christine McVie/Fleetwood Mac sound.

Sunday, March 18, 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.​"

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. 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."