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Saturday, September 19, 2020

Black Pumas, Joan Osborne, Semisonic, ZZ Ward and introducing Blue Stragglers

Black Pumas: I'm Ready

Jackie Lee Young Photography
The debut album by songwriter/vocalist Eric Burton and producer/multi-instrumentalist Adrian Quesada was released in mid-2019 to critical acclaim, but it wasn't until the duo was nominated for a new-artist Grammy later that year that it began to gain a wide audience. The single "Colors" reached the top of the AAA charts in January, prompting the release of another single, "Fire" -- and now, a "Deluxe" re-issue of the album with three unreleased songs plus alternate mixes and some covers. Our pick for the New Music bin is one of the new originals.

Joan Osborne: That Was A Lie

On this track from her new album, Trouble and Strife, Osborne targets official disinformation (although the lyrics could apply to any kind of liar). Osborne explains: "I get so enraged watching these polished, camera-ready mouthpieces for our government just straight-up lying to us. And journalists seem unable use the word 'lie' ... I think it’s important not to sanitize them, to call them what they are. People in power are abusing the public trust ... and I believe we need to call them on it in no uncertain terms."

Semisonic: You're Not Alone

Dan Wilson, John Munson and Jacob Slichter reunite on the new EP You're Not Alone, their first studio release since 2001. "The collection sounds as timeless musically as it does right-on-time lyrically," writes the Star-Tribune newspaper in their home state of Minnesota. "Not only do the title track and several other songs evoke some desperately needed unity and comfort, so does the warmth of singer/guitarist Wilson’s voice."

ZZ Ward: Giant

This is the latest in a series of singles that could presage a third album from the Pennsylvania-born, LA-based singer and multi-instrumentalist. Her music is often described as a blend of blues and hip-hop. “This song came from feeling so close to someone that their pain felt like mine, watching them get hurt over and over felt so real," Ward says. "This is a reminder for my friend and to anyone who needs to hear it, that you can always find the Giant inside when you feel small.”

Blue Stragglers: Forever And A Day

Bringing a powerful dose of garage rock to our mix is this track from the self-titled, debut EP by a band from the UK's Sussex region. Lee Martin (vocals, guitar), Ali Waite (bass) and Andy Head (drums) "bonded via a love of bands such as The Raconteurs, PJ Harvey, Supergrass, Demob Happy, Beck, Grandaddy and Jane's Addiction," according to their bio. They describe their sound as "fuzzed-up, hook-laden, grooved-out alt-rock." As they formed the band, they converted an empty building into rehearsal space and now run it as a non-profit for area musicians. Fun fact: Google "blue stragglers" and you'll learn about a class of star observed in old, dense stellar systems such as globular clusters.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

New Springsteen + Vanishing Shores, Of Monsters and Men, Gracie and Rachel, Laura Marling

Bruce Springsteen: Letter To You

By a quirk of timing, amid a pandemic that has forced many bands to collaborate remotely comes an album recorded by a band working in close quarters - presumably many months ago. Springsteen reunited with his E Street Band at his home base in New Jersey and recorded “live in the studio, in a way we’ve never done before, and with no overdubs. We made the album in only five days, and it turned out to be one of the greatest recording experiences I’ve ever had.” Due Oct. 23, Letter to You has nine new songs and fresh versions of three that Springsteen wrote and demoed in the early 70s but didn't release. NPR says: "The song is in the classic E Street Band style: layered guitars, swirling organ, chiming piano and crashing drums." From Rolling Stone: "The song’s sentiment comes through in his voice and in the way the E Street Band effortlessly plays the track’s rootsy guitar and piano lines and swinging rhythms." 

Vanishing Shores: Fix Me

This indie group from Cleveland is one of the many bands worldwide whose planned releases have been delayed by the pandemic. While they wait to finish their Kickstarter-financed next album, Kevin Bianchi last month released an EP, Soundtrack for Survival (Bande-son pour la survie), consisting of polished-up demos. They have also issued two singles from the upcoming LP, and "Fix Me" is one of those, featuring backing vocals by Katie Egan. The song, says Bianchi, "is about realizing that relationships are not about changing another person. The idea that we can or should change a person to be more like us or to think more like us is a false idea that only causes us to miss true and lasting beauty." 

Of Monsters and Men: Visitor

This single is the first taste of what the Icelandic band says is “a body of work coming at the top of 2021 in celebration of the group’s tenth anniversary together.” The energetic track is "a song about disconnection and being on the fringe of change, seeing everything you once knew disappear, and finding yourself in the role of the visitor," says guitarist/vocalist Nanna Brynd√≠s Hilmarsd√≥ttir. It closes with a repeated, spooky refrain: "My mother said I was always afraid of the dark / But I'm not, I don't mind / Having a ghost in my bed." We've been liking this band more and more as its music evolves, particularly with last years' critically acclaimed LP Fever Dream. 

Gracie and Rachel: Underneath

This Brooklyn-based duo of California natives is about to release Hello Weakness, You Make Me Strong. The "alchemy" between free-spirited keyboardist Gracie Coates and classically trained violinist Rachel Ruggles "has never been more potent or realized than on their upcoming sophomore record," with more layers of electronics and beats, according to a statement from their new label, Ani DiFranco’s Righteous Babe Records.  "The songs ask us to look directly into the eye of the broken mirror reflection in front of us,” the duo says. “The music is less interested in fixing what’s fragmented than it is in putting value on imperfections for all they’re worth.” 

Laura Marling: Strange Girl

The songs on the British singer-songwriter's seventh album, Song for our Daughter, are written to an imaginary child, Marling has said, describing "trauma and an enduring quest to understand what it is to be a woman in this society" and offering "all the confidences and affirmations I found so difficult to provide myself.” This song can be heard as a mother's message of gentle guidance - but on another level, it could be a message of support and encouragement to oneself: "I love you my strange girl / My lonely girl, my angry girl, my brave." 

Saturday, September 5, 2020

New Music picks: Smashing Pumpkins, Bastile, Shayla McDaniel, Hannah Georgas, Nothing But Thieves

Smashing Pumpkins: CYR

Dystopic nightmare seems to be the prevailing theme of 2020, and this is Billy Corgan's contribution. He describes the song as “one-soul-against-the-world sort of stuff, set against a backdrop of shifting loyalties and sped-up time." The single is a forerunner to a yet-untitled album that will be the band's second release since Corgan got back together with founding Pumpkins James Iha and Jimmy Chamberlin, along with longtime guitarist Jeff Schroeder, in 2018. (CYR is supposedly pronounced "seer," although neither word appears in the lyrics.) 

Bastille: What You Gonna Do???

The South London quartet gets an assist from Blur's Graham Coxon on this guitar-and-drum-heavy rocker that marks a stylistic shift. "Gone are the polished production and synth-laden pop choruses, replaced instead with a punk sensibility," writes Atwood Magazine. The lyrics deal with the constant distraction and potential menace of social media: "You got control, got my attention / Make me tap and scroll ...You got us listening, so what you gonna do? / Now what you gonna do with it?" Following last year's Doom Days LP, frontman Dan Smith says this single is part of "a new beginning” for Bastille. “It’s about completely tearing up our process, being spontaneous and starting again."

Shayla McDaniel: Worth Living

The new single from this Tennessee songwriter and musician counsels against despair, whether brought on by current events or private anxieties. "Please don’t believe the lies / Lodged inside of your mind / Your life is worth living / Please don’t leave me behind." The song's release is timed to World Suicide Prevention Day (Sept. 10) and U.S. National Suicide Prevention Week (Sept. 6-12). McDaniel, a multi-instrumentalist who self-produced this track, brings keen observation and an open-hearted warmth to her songs, delivered in a style that blends pop, R&B and jazz. 

Hannah Georgas: Dreams

The fourth album from this Juno-nominated artist, All That Emotion, is "a subdued, low-contrast set that leans into timbres like piano, muffled drums, humming keyboards, and rich guitar tones as accompaniment for Georgas' yearning, soft-spoken reflections," writes AllMusic. We previously featured the single "That Emotion," and with the release of the full LP, we're picking up one of the more upbeat tracks, with "an insistent, sixteenth-note bass line and spacy, layered textures." An Ontario native who moved to British Columbia for university and began her career there, Georgas is now based in Toronto. The album was produced by The National's Aaron Dessner at his upstate New York studio.

Nothing But Thieves: Real Love Song

We introduced this song on The Detour and now move it to the New Music bin. It strikes our ear as Killers-esque. The U.K. five-piece band will release its third full-length album, Moral Panic, this fall. The group describes this track as "an attempt to write a song about love from a self-aware perspective. It’s about the darker side of love – the painful, unrequited kind. It’s love lost or love never gained."

Saturday, August 29, 2020

New Old 97s, plus fresh picks from Jason Isbell, Land of Talk, Larkin Poe, Subshine

Old 97s: The Dropouts

It's impressive when a band has been playing together for a quarter century. The alt-country quartet of Rhett Miller, Ken Bethea, Murray Hammond and Philip Peeples has just released its 12th album, called, um, Twelfth. American Songwriter says this opening track is "classic Old 97s every step of the way, yet pulses with the energy of a band making their debut, with unstoppable musical swagger and Miller’s effortless lyrical eloquence on full display. The song honors society’s underdogs, to whom Miller still feels a kinship despite the band’s success." 

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit: Running With Our Eyes Closed

The influence of Jackson Browne seems strong on this track from Reunions. The verses follow a melody similar to "Lives in the Balance." And while the lyrics don't deal with social or political issues (as other tracks on the album do), they would fit well with many of Browne's songs describing the highs and lows of relationships. "And we can never go back and be strangers / All our secrets are mixed and distilled / But you've taught me to temper my anger / And you've learned it's alright to be still." 

Land of Talk: Footnotes

Eavesdrop with us on another of the Indistinct Conversations in the new LP from Montreal-based Elizabeth Powell and her band. “The music itself is the very sound of people connecting," Powell says. "Lush and layered with swirling synths and dreamy guitar noise, driving drums – I envision us all sweatily, joyfully performing together on stage. Lyrically, though, this song has revealed itself to be about loneliness ... and the wish-hope-struggle to reach out and connect with others. The chorus promise, ‘I’ll be there night after night,’ is at once comforting and threatening. Is it a loved one talking, or the loneliness itself?” 

Larkin Poe: Every Bird That Flies

We previously featured "Holy Ghost Fire" from Self Made Man, the latest release by this Nashville-based rock-and-roll duo. Sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell bring a dark, ominous atmosphere to this track. The refrain "Suddenly you're free as / Every bird that flies" sounds liberating - but not when it's preceded by lines like "When all you got is nothing / And you're waiting 'round to die." 

Subshine: Living Like It's Real

Music from this solo project of Norway's Ole Gunnar Gundersen, former lead vocalist of a band called Lorraine, has been in our playlist since last year. We began playing this track a few months ago on The Detour, and enjoyed the '80s flashbacks so much that we decided to move it into the New Music bin. The opening of this song strongly reminds us of ... some record from the late 80s or early 90s that we've been racking our brains to identify. Contact us if you can help make the connection. 

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Cat Dail, Bright Eyes, The Killers, Alison Solo, Sylvan Esso in our New Music Bin

Cat Dail: Red Pill

"Want to get away / But there's really no place to hide." Like many songs this year, this one expresses distress over current social and political trends - in this case with a call to see through lies and recognize reality. New York singer-songwriter-musician Cat Dail has assembled a band of top-rank players to wrap the message in a glossy package that sounds like a theme song for an action movie. And indeed, it's slated to appear in an indie film by the same name, written and directed by Tonya Pinkins, who also contributed to the lyrics.

Bright Eyes: Mariana Trench

A sense of anxiety permeates this track from Down in the Weeds Where the World Once Was. It's the first album in nine years from Conor Oberst, Nathaniel Walcott and Mike Mogis under the Bright Eyes banner. They're joined by Chili Pepper bassist Flea and drummer Jon Theodore from Queens of the Stone Age on this track, named after the deepest underwater canyon on earth. "New-wave synths and an upper-cut of horns ... help get its message of solemn satire across," writes Variety. Sample lyric: "Look out for the plainclothes / Look out for what the wiretap knows / Look out on the ever-widening money trail and where it goes."

The Killers: Running Towards a Place

The Las Vegas rockers' sixth album, Imploding the Mirage, sees frontman Brandon Flowers and drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr. working without founding guitarist Dave Keuning and with bassist Mark Stoermer in a reduced role, according to AllMusic, which nonetheless calls the result "a masterful distillation" of the sound they've crafted since 2004. "The typical Killers trademarks are all here -- big anthems and even bigger emotions." From the chorus: "And if we're running towards a place / Where we'll walk as one / Will the hardness of this life / Be overcome?

Alison Solo: Last One Standing

We previously featured "Chiron" from Plutonian, the recent release by this modern practitioner of bluesy classic rock. "The British bands from the 60s and 70s and the bands that emerged during the time of the grunge movement influenced me the most," Vancouver-based Solo told music blog The Ripple Effect. Solo accompanies herself on guitar and bass, with James Last on the drums and Tony Edwards adding keys on some numbers. This track has drawn comparisons to The Black Crowes.   

Sylvan Esso: Ferris Wheel

The North Carolina-based duo of Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn seek to brighten a gloomy summer with their new album, Free Love. “It’s a record about being increasingly terrified of the world around you and looking inward to remember all the times when loving other people seemed so easy, so that you can find your way back to that place,” the couple said. Of this track, Stereogum writes: "Meath gracefully spins melodies over hiccuping digital production, building to a nimble and extremely catchy chorus punctuated by sampled children’s chants and the occasional beat drop."