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Saturday, February 15, 2020

Fresh tracks from Jason Isbell, Puss N Boots, Wye Oak, Cold War Kids, Subshine

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit: Be Afraid

Days after Drive By Truckers released The Unravelling, former band member Jason Isbell is out with more angry alt-country-rock music of his own. It's the first single from Reunions, his second album with The 400 Unit, due for release in May. The lyric sounds a call to music-scene stars to use their platform to speak truth to power. "If your words add up to nothing then you're making a choice / to sing a cover when you need a battle cry." Referencing the flak that some country artists have taken for speaking out, Isbell sings, "Be very afraid / but do it anyway."

Puss N Boots: It's Not Easy

Jazz singers and then-novice guitar players Norah Jones and Sasha Dobson started playing together back in 2008, soon joined by session bassist Catherine Popper, who has worked with Ryan Adams, Grace Potter and many more. In between their other projects, the trio gigged at New York clubs, released the 2014 album No Fools, No Fun and followed with a Christmas album last year. Now they're back with Sister, a 14-song collection of originals and covers of Tom Petty, Dolly Parton, Paul Westerberg and Concrete Blonde. The vibe is more country-Americana than jazz on most of the tunes, including this one featuring Jones on lead vocal.

Wye Oak: Fear of Heights

There's no word so far of a new album coming from the duo of Andy Stack and Jenn Wasner, but they've resumed releasing new music and are preparing to tour this spring. A couple of months ago, we featured their first track in two years, "Fortune." This latest song, Wasner says, "likens the deepening of a relationship to the feeling of ascending to the top of a very tall place. There’s something to be seen (or learned, or experienced) once you arrive, but for some there is also a fear that increases with every step upwards." Stereogum writes: "This band always operates at a high level, but it’s still great to hear them return with material this strong."

Cold War Kids: Who's Gonna Love Me Now

Close on the heels of November's release of New Age Norms 1 comes the first single from the second installment of the planned trilogy. describes it as "a loose, fuzzy stomp," written as a group composition by vocalist Nathan Willett, bassist Matt Maust, guitarist David Quon, multi-instrumentalist Matthew Schwartz and drummer Joe Plummer. Willett says the lyric "is about all those times when I imagine what it’d be like to have my freedom. You’re in a relationship and ... you you start wondering what it’s like on the other side. But when you actually get it — you crash and burn.”

Subshine: Over the Moon

Almost a year ago, we featured "Easy," the lead single from the debut album of this project fronted by Norway's Ole Gunnar Gundersen. Easy Window was released last summer and we've played other tracks on The Detour and in our big mix. Heavily influenced by British 80s pop-rock, Subshine returns with a catchy tune that alternates between gentle crooning and driving guitar-rock.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

New tunes from Nada Surf, Tame Impala, Kodaline, Secret Treehouse, Keeton Coffman

Nada Surf: So Much In Love

On their new album, Never Not Together, the New York alt-pop-rock band delivers what AllMusic calls "lyrical anthems rife with an electric, '90s-style power pop shimmer." A reviewer on ABC News described the collection as "nine songs about connections, empathy and alienation tied together by Matthew Caws' eternally youthful vocals and a bouquet of inviting melodies." We're featuring the opening track, which fits right in with the band's best-known tunes, but will also delve into some of the album's more innovative tracks.

Tame Impala: Lost In Yesterday

The project of Melbourne's Kevin Parker has just released its first album in five years. In the meantime, Parker has become part of the LA music scene as a producer of hip-hop and pop albums. Now his domesticated antelope returns with a solid collection of psych-synth pop-rock. "Crunchy guitars are largely absent, writes NME, "but we’re left with something far more intriguing – a pop record bearing masterful electronic strokes." There's a bit of a theme of time passing: We previously featured "It Might Be Time," and this track is about how nostalgia colors the past: "Now even though that was a time I hated from day one / Eventually terrible memories turn into great ones."

Kodaline: Wherever You Are

This Dublin band is previewing its upcoming fourth album with this slice of anthemic power-pop on the familiar theme of maintaining a connection with a distant loved one. Vocalist Steve Garrigan says, "I wrote it specifically for my girlfriend as due to being away on tour all the time, we never really get to see each other." Mixes well with Coldplay, Wyland, Talk Talk.

Secret Treehouse: At Sunrise

It was only a year ago that this alternative pop/rock band from Norway released its very impressive debut album. They've hardly taken a break since; apparently they can't stop/won't stop releasing well-crafted, catchy tunes - three so far, unless we missed one - that fit nicely into our big mix. This latest single has been getting spins on The Detour in recent weeks, and now we're upping it to the New Music Bin. 

Keeton Coffman: Fire + Gasoline

Our New Music selections this week are rather heavy on electronic pop-rock - as is much of the music being released these days - so we're glad to be able to add a good dose of guitar-based rock. We've been playing several tracks by this Texas-based purveyor of "heartland rock 'n' roll" since he released his solo debut album in 2016. Now comes this brand-new single - full of energy and passion with a lyric describing the incendiary start of an affair: "Pour out your love and we'll strike a match / Drop it to the floor, baby never look back."

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Added to our mix: Drive-By Truckers, Wolf Parade, Grace Potter, Peaness & Andy Shauf. Variety!

Drive By Truckers: 21st Century USA

This track from The Unraveling, the new collection of social commentary by Mike Cooley, Patterson Hood and company, has a strong Neil Young vibe - a bit ironic, perhaps, since the band is from Alabama. The song is a description of Anytown USA, with its chain stores, its citizens working hard for too little pay, and their hopes for what Joe Hill called "pie in the sky when you die." On the LP, the Truckers decry gun culture, drug addiction and "Babies in Cages" in blunt lyrics. "I didn’t want to disguise it in flowery, poetic language,” Hood says. “It’s not a poetic time.”

Wolf Parade: Forest Green

The new album Thin Mind marks a return to the Montreal-based band's original lineup of guitarist Dan Boeckner, keyboardist Spencer Krug and drummer Arlen Thompson. NowToronto writes that "the group have downsized their sound accordingly, largely excising the displays of proggy sprawl that have always been a feature of their records in favour of a more immediate, pop-focused attack." The review calls this track "urgent and exhilarating, like an early-80s Cars hit recast as a fiery protest song decrying the conversion of woodlands into condos on 'stolen land.'”

Grace Potter: Back To Me (feat. Lucius)

The phrase "slow burner" certainly applies to this track from the late-2019 release, Daylight. From a quiet hum, it builds up to a '70s-soul climax as Potter's powerful vocal is backed by Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of Lucius. Paste writes, "Potter’s voice alone should be reason enough to pay attention to her ... that raspy force shines on every single note." On this song, "she holds her voice back before letting it totally take control."

Peaness: Kaizan

The three-piece indie-pop outfit from Chester, England, is new to us but has been gaining attention with performances at festivals and on the BBC. This bouncy single, which would mix well with anything from the catalogs of The Go-Gos and The Bangles, reflects the trio's love of Japanese pop culture. Band member Jess says she wrote the song "to remind myself that with every act of kindness and every crime, we affect the future, and that those choices go on to shape others, and our beautiful planet, long after we're gone. The word ‘Kaizen’ is a Japanese word that literally translates to ‘change for the good’, and that’s what we're hoping for.”

Andy Shauf: Try Again

This Toronto-based, Saskatchewan-raised musician writes short stories in the form of songs, with wryly humorous lyrics delivered in an off-handed, conversational style. His new release, The Neon Skyline, is a concept album that tells a simple tale: Boy who lost girl goes out for drinks with friends; boy is still thinking about girl; girl shows up at the bar, they banter but don't reconnect. At the end of this song, boy is coming to grips: "Somewhere between drunkenness and honesty / I make a silent toast to the things I do and don't miss."

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Brand-new music by Pearl Jam, Surge, Hemming, Katie Pruitt, John Lewitt

Pearl Jam: Dance of the Clairvoyants

Photo: Danny Clinch
On this first single from the upcoming LP Gigaton, Eddie Vedder channels David Byrne and the band draws on New Wave and dance-rock influences to create what Rolling Stone calls the band's "funkiest song in forever." (When Vedder sings in the first verse, "Burn your assumptions," the echo of "Burning Down the House" is strong.) Bassist Jeff Ament says making this track "was a perfect storm of experimentation and real collaboration, mixing up the instrumentation and building a great song, and Ed writing some of my favorite words yet, around Matt's killer drum pattern. Did I mention Mike's (McCready) insane guitar part and that Stone (Gossard) is playing bass on this one?"

Surge: Smash the Clocks

From the Essex seaside town of Clacton-on-Sea comes this indie-pop band and its debut EP, Colours, due for release in March. The foursome sets out to "combine swirling synths and chiming guitars with complimenting beats." The guitars are more prominent on this track, with its catchy chorus and relatable theme about the passage of time and our impossible wish to slow it down. "I blinked and I was 33," sings lead vocalist George King. "It's something you can outrun / You can’t undo what is done."

Hemming: Airport Security

Singer-songwriter-guitarist Candice Martello is joined by two other members of the Philadelphia indie-music scene - Adam Shumski on drums and Joshua Chase Miller on bass - for this latest release by her Hemming indie-rock project. Her music tends toward dark themes, and this track starts out that way, ruminating on time and distance and separation in a plaintive, tremulous vocal: "Nothing feels right since you walked out the door / I hate calendars and airport security / all the things that take you away from me." But it takes a hopeful turn at the end: "Let my heart unthaw / cause I can feel you near."

Katie Pruitt: Expectations

Originally from the Atlanta suburbs, this emerging artist is now based in Nashville, and her debut album, Expectations, is soon to be released by Rounder Records. The title track, says American Songwriter, "demonstrates what Pruitt does best: blend indie rock, Americana and solid songwriting." Rolling Stone has described her as “a soulful, acrobatic vocalist with a strong sense of melody and even stronger knack for crafting an affecting narrative.” This song is about casting off the weight of your own or other people's expectations: "We are conditioned from an early age to feel that we need to have our whole lives figured out, right this second," Pruitt says. "When often times, we’d get there quicker if we’d only learn to relax."

John Lewitt: I've Got A Lot of Friends

We featured this Toronto-based musician in our New Music bin about a year ago and on The Birch Street Bistro numerous times. He describes his new EP, Acoustically Inclined, as a collection of laid-back songs "perfect for those weekend mornings where you just want to relax with a cup of coffee and doing nothing." This traveling song evokes classic folk in the keep-on-the-sunny-side vein: "I've got a lot of friends / Like the leaves in the trees / Like the stars in the night / Shining down, guiding me."

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Introducing Siobhán O'Brien, Northern Quarter, plus new music by Marcus King, Joywave, Icicle

Siobhán O’Brien - The King's Fool

This singer-songwriter from Limerick, Ireland, moved to the USA in 2017 to pursue music full-time. "A lot of my influences were American - the great songwriters, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, The Band," O'Brien told hometown website I Love Limerick. Now based in Virginia, she spent time in Austin recording her upcoming album, You Can't Run Out of Love, with John Bush and Matt Hubbard (drummer and keyboardist for Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians) as her co-producers. On this lead single, O'Brien compares the struggle to make a career in music to the life of a court jester.

Northern Quarter - Fighting For You

One musical connection leads to another. After adding Elk Run & Riot to our big mix, we caught wind of another Alberta-based indie band that's just released a new single. Kerry Hunter's smoky vocal is backed by a soulful, bluesy arrangement of guitar, bass, drums and organ, and the track has a very "live" sound as though the band is playing right in front of you in a club 'round midnight. The group's next EP is due in the spring. (Photo by Martin Boudreau)

Marcus King - Say You Will

We previously featured "The Well" from El Dorado, King's debut "solo" album following three releases with his band. This Dan Auerbach-produced collection includes quiet, introspective songs that show another side of the guitar wizard's talents. But our pick for the New Music bin this week is this heavy, southern-rock track that American Songwriter calls "tough ZZ Top-styled swamp," with King's electric-guitar chops on full display.

Joywave - Half Your Age

The new single from this Rochester, N.Y., indie-electro band is a bouncy, upbeat, anthemic song about...coming to grips with aging. "Brush it all away / Tell yourself you’ve got some years to waste / Laugh it all away / But all your heroes now are half your age." Thanks, guys, for the reminder that we ain't getting any younger. (Coincidentally, that's also the theme of Tame Impala's "It Might Be Time," the title track from their recent release.) Joywave's third album, Possession, is due in March. (Photo by Mary Ellen Matthews)

Icicle - Talk Talk Talk

Icicle is the project of prolific Montreal-based musician Krassy Halatchev, and this track is from Senescence, his eighth album in a little over five years. Our regular listeners have heard him in our mix and on The Detour, our nightly even-more-eclectic-than-usual show. This track is now crossing over from The Detour to the New Music bin. It's an entertainingly angry breakup song: "I just want to forget it / because I don't need the headache / so please leave me alone!"