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Saturday, December 15, 2018

Now in our New Music bin: Valley, Broken Bells, Alice Merton, Michael Jablonka, John Hewitt

Toronto alt-pop quartet Valley has just released Maybe: Side A - the first installment of a three-part LP, or a trio of EPs, depending how you look at it. In the two years since its previous release, This Room Is White, the band worked in its home studio and on trips to Los Angeles and New York to create this new collection, "packed with snapshots from the last two years of our life, and concepts of our generation." From this collection of mostly upbeat, buoyant tunes, we're picking "Loop Love" to feature in our New Music bin, and we'll drop other tracks into our big mix.

Alice Merton also has a connection to the Toronto suburbs, as she lived there with her family during part of her pre-teen years. Having lived at times in the U.S., Canada, England, France and her native Germany, she has said that her 2016 hit single "No Roots" was inspired by the feeling that "there's no one place where my home is." Her first album, Mint, is due next month, and the latest single to spin out of it is the quirky, jumpy "Funny Business." In the lyric, she urges a suspicious lover to "trust me when I say that I was innocent ... I don't break hearts, I don't do funny business."

Continuing in the alt-pop vein, we're picking up "Shelter," a new single from Broken Bells, the collaboration of Shins frontman James Mercer and producer Brian "Danger Mouse" Burton. On this track the duo “combined their unmistakable melodies, lyrics, vocals and singular composition style" with the mouse's “deconstruction and reconstruction of sampled beats.” The result is a breezy mid-tempo take on the well-worn theme of a lover providing shelter from the storm.

We've previously featured Michael Jablonka, who established himself at a young age as a guitarist-for-hire behind various UK artists before recently striking out on his own. His latest single, "Papier-Mache," expands on his blues-funk-rock sound with expressive, soulful vocals. The track takes the listener on a ride through multiple changes in mood and tempo, with a flaming guitar break in the middle.

We circle back to Toronto for a more laid-back sound from singer-songwriter John Lewitt. He recently released his fifth album, All Good Things, which blends strains of Americana, folk, country and rock with personal, relatable lyrics. Our pick for the New Music bin is "Best Kept Secret," the love song of a guy who can't believe his good fortune.

By the way, we debuted four of these five songs on our weekly show The Detour, where we mix a lot of indie and other new releases with older tracks that you don't hear often. It streams Sundays at 5pm Eastern, 2pm Pacific, 10pm GMT and repeats six hours later. Past episodes are archived on Mixcloud.

We've also just added a weekly show called The Birch Street Bistro, which features singer-songwriters and bands that play music on the softer side of the rock spectrum. Join us in the Bistro on Sundays for a relaxing hour starting at Noon Eastern, 9am Pacific, 5pm GMT.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

New tunes from Frances Cone, The Chestertons, Fast Friends, Lake Street Dive and The Revivalists

Frances Cone is the indie-pop project of Christina Cone, a classically trained pianist and vocalist. After releasing album in 2013, Cone began working with bassist Andy Doherty and together they formulated a lush multi-layered sound surrounding Cone's breathy vocals. Partly recorded in New York and partly since their move to Nashville, their new album Late Riser is due out in January. We're featuring "Failure," which Cone calls a love song to imperfections - "a reach beyond tolerance to acceptance and even fondness."
Continuing in an indie-music vein, we head up the interstates from Nashville to Cleveland to pick up "Big Life," a new single from The Chestertons. It's a straight-forward, guitar-based rocker (except for a spacey break in the middle), with earnest vocals by Kevin Bianchi. We've previously featured a few tracks from Bianchi's solo project, Vanishing Shores.
Adding some European flavor to our mix this week is Paris-based Fast Friends, a French-Swedish pop-rock duo. They have just released their debut EP, Unknown Homes, and we tried out the lead track "Eureka" on The Detour last Sunday. We found its quirky, laid-back, lo-fi sound quite appealing and have now popped it into our New Music bin.

Six months or so after releasing their latest album, Free Yourself Up, Lake Street Dive has taken some songs that didn't make that collection and put them out as an EP called Freak Yourself Out. We're featuring the standout "Who Do You Think You Are?"
And we're pulling yet another track from Take Good Care, last month's release from The Revivalists. This one, called "Change," reminds us a lot of the bluesier side of The Black Keys.

Reminder: We're always happy to receive suggestions of new music to consider for our playlist. Use the comment form on our website, contact us on Facebook or Twitter, or email to birchstreetradio@gmail.com.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

New music by Bryan Hansen Band, Crack the Sky, Keuning, Jeff Tweedy, Cat Dail added to our mix

New Jersey's Bryan Hansen Band has a distinctive sound that combines the funky rhythm section of bassist Will Blakey and drummer Cwan Merritt with Hansen's intricate lyrics and jazz/soul vocal stylings. They have been in our mix for a few years now, and they've just released a new single, "Diamonds," from an upcoming album called Gas Money. In the accompanying video, glimpses of the band playing the song are intercut with a short film in which they pull off a diamond-theft caper - but ultimately get played.

Veteran rockers Crack the Sky just released Living In Reverse, their 20th album (more or less) in a 33-year recording career. We have been playing the first single, "Talk Talk," and now we're featuring the title track. The influence of The Beatles and the progressive-rock era remain strong with this outfit, and John Palumbo's lyrics seem particularly self-reflective on this album. We're not alone in considering CTS one of the best bands that too few people know, but they have maintained a strong fan base in the Mid-Atlantic area of the U.S.

The name Keuning may not be familiar to many outside the fan base of The Killers, who know Dave Keuning as the lead guitarist of that band for the past 17 years. Although still a member, Keuning took a break from the band last year, opting to forego a tour in order to spend time with his family. He recorded his forthcoming solo album, Prismism, at his San Diego home studio. Now in our New Music bin is the latest single, "Boat Accident," which Clash Music calls "an instantly catchy, endlessly infectious piece of alt-pop with a crisp 80s vibe."

Jeff Tweedy's band Wilco is currently on hiatus, and he goes into singer-songwriter mode on his first true solo album. Rolling Stone writes that "the easygoing arrangements on Warm bely a much darker, conflicted undercurrent running through Tweedy’s writing," resulting in a "deeply moving" collection. We're picking up a track called "I Know What It's Like," a song of disconnection: "I know what it's like / to not feel love."

In a lighter vein, we're dipping back into the new album from New York singer-songwriter Cat Dail, Fight For Love. This time we're featuring a track called "Wonder Love" whose lyric also contains the album title. It's a clever twist on the Superman story: "I don't need Superman to save me / He could be my friend ... Me and the man of steel could spend hours / sitting around comparing our powers." On a recent episode of The Detour we put this song together with several other super-themed tunes. You can listen to that super-set any time - just go to our Mixcloud site and play The Detour - Ep. 18.)

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Our latest picks: Hero Fisher, Joy Williams, Bad Suns + more from Mumford & Sons, Van Morrison

We have played a couple of tracks from Hero Fisher's new album Glue Moon on our Sunday free-form show The Detour. Last week we gave a spin to "I Let Love," and decided it would fit just fine in our 24/7 mix - so we've now added it as one of our featured New Music picks. The album is the second release from this British-born, French-raised and now London-based artist, described as "by turns a blistering rock and roller in the vein of Patti Smith and PJ Harvey, and an experimental folk storyteller à la Jeff Buckley."

Moving farther in the folk-music direction, we're picking up "Canary," a new song by Joy Williams, formerly of the Americana duo The Civil Wars. It's an advance single from her forthcoming solo album Front Porch. The lyric builds on the idea of a canary in a mine, warning of danger in the air - although in this song, the canary sings out instead of falling silent. Williams said: "This song is the call to sing, and not stay silent any longer. To speak out. To look out for one another, and to speak up for ourselves."
California indie-rockers Bad Suns have two well-received albums to their credit. AllMusic.com described them as combining "angsty songwriting" with "hook-heavy indie rock to form the basis of their extremely catchy sound." They're now out with a new single, "Away We Go," with a more optimistic, "tomorrow might be better" theme.
Our other picks for the New Music bin this week are additional tracks from recent releases we've featured before:
  • Van Morrison - "Got To Go Where The Love Is" from The Prophet Speaks
  • Mumford & Sons - "If I Say" from Delta.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

New from Wyland, Mark Knopfler, The Daybreaks, The Story So Far and introducing Dream Reporter

Photo by Kelsey Ayres
New Jersey indie band Wyland recently spent a month in Ireland working with producer Phil Magee on an EP due early next year. The first taste is a just-released single, "Nowhere Now." Frontman Ryan Sloan cites influences including U2, Coldplay, Elbow and Noel Gallagher. He told Ones To Watch that the beginnings of this song came to him in an Austin, Texas, hotel room during SXSW and "the rest of the tune came together back in New Jersey as the band put their spice to it." Keyboardist/backing vocalist Ariella Mastroianni says the Nowhere of the title is a place of escape, "where the laws of the universe just don’t quite apply" and there is "infinite possibility." The band is about to start a tour of Canada and the Eastern U.S. with Toronto-based indie band Valley.

On Birch Street Radio, we specialize in mixing indie artists with established acts. So we turn next to Mark Knopfler, the guitar master who rose to fame with Dire Straits and now works independently. From his ninth solo album, Down The Road Wherever, we previously featured the single "Good On You Son." We now have the full collection, which AllMusic aptly calls "A classic Knopfler grab-bag of elegant fretwork, crafty melodies, and dryly delivered storytelling." Our latest pick for the New Music bin is one of the perkier numbers, "Nobody Does That."

Also from the U.K., we have the debut of London-based Dream Reporter. We don't know the name, or much else about, the singer-songwriter-producer behind this indie-rock/dream-pop project. But the debut EP is quite promising. It includes an Elliot Smith cover along with a few original songs, including our featured pick, title track "White Horse." It combines quirky beats with lush synths and a powerful vocal. In the lyric, the singer spurns someone's attempt to "rescue" her: "You're no white horse / no escape ladder."

The Daybreaks are a Nashville-based group that sometimes describe their music as "retro synth pop." (Synth pop can already be retro?) They've just released their second album, The Idea of You, and we're picking up on the title track, a six-minute excursion that starts with quiet synths and dreamy vocals that then float atop waves of urgent electronic, guitar and piano sounds to an arena-rock-style crest.

And now we jump to the West Coast and the pop-punk quintet The Story So Far. Proper Dose is the fourth studio album by the California outfit, and its first release in more than three years. Our music mix doesn't include much in the punk direction, but The Story goes in some different directions on this release, blending in acoustic and electronic elements. We're picking up "Take Me As You Please," which features chiming guitars and a laid-back attitude: "She says that I'm crazy / but I don't let it faze me."