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Saturday, August 8, 2020

New from Thompson Springs, The Light Workers, Maya Maya, Snow Patrol, Run River North

Thompson Springs: Slightly Sexy

Photo: Kayla Thornton
This Chicago indie-folk-rock band has just released its first full-length album, Undertones, produced in Nashville by Wilco's Pat Sansone. We're featuring the opening track, which leans farther toward alt-rock than most of the collection, starting off with a bass-drum punch and fuzzy electric guitar. "You're an unsolved mystery / Constantly challenging me," sings frontman Matt Smith. "You're outlandish / and perfectly cool." Smith is backed by Jeff Sullivan on guitar, David Thrift on bass and drummer Jake Bicknase, described by Smith as the band's "musical director - I get the broad ideas and then he goes into the theory." We'll sprinkle some of the album's more folk-ish songs into our mix as well.

The Light Workers: Peppermint

The Albuquerque, New Mexico-based duo of Anne Luna and Evan Woodward have just released their self-titled debut EP. They take turns on lead vocals and harmonies on its five tracks, which feature Luna on upright bass and cello, Woodward on guitars and John Bartlit on percussion. Luna is also part of The Hard Road Trio, and wrote this track with another member of that band, Steve Smith. The lyric laments a friend's self-imposed alienation: "Alone in her room every night / Drinkin' the gloom when it's quiet / Welcome the dark as a key to your art / Grudges to guard your soft heart." A review at quotes Luna saying that in writing the song, "I thought of times I have felt so stuck in life, wondering how I got there, and of times I’ve witnessed others creating their own cages." 

Maya Maya: Lifeguard

We're pleased to feature another debut indie release this week, by this pop-rock band from Glagow, Scotland. The four-track EP is called Cutting Teeth, from the expression for just beginning to learn a skill. The title sells them short: Lyricist-vocalist Clara Robb, composer-guitarist Tony Millar, bassist Scott Anstruther and drummer Robbie Houston already have the sound of an accomplished band, with solid musicianship and inventive songwriting. They describe "Lifeguard" as "a song for the people who use those closest to them as a lifebuoy without realising, or maybe even caring, that they're pulling the other person underwater with them." 

Snow Patrol: Reaching Out To You

The upcoming EP The Fireside Sessions is credited to "Snow Patrol and the Saturday Songwriters." While in pandemic lockdown, frontman Gary Lightbody conducted a series of Instagram livestreams and invited fans to collaborate with him. "They would suggest chords and lyrics and I would put them all together and add in a few of my own where appropriate - but my unwritten rule was that there would be lyrics from a Saturday Songwriter in each line of the song.” In this track, the resulting lyrics are cryptic yet expressive of a longing to return to personal connection: "Know the last time that I saw you / Is not the last page of the book."

Run River North: Pretty Lies

After a few releases on Nettwerk, this California band is going indie again with an album coming this fall. This first single is a collaboration with members of L.A. trio Sir Sly. A band statement says: "Songwriting sessions between bands can become complicated tinder dates with simultaneous multiple partners, but we're happy that everyone swiped right and turned a pretty lie into one of our most creative and fun songs."

Saturday, August 1, 2020

New releases from Crack the Sky, The Crayon Set, Land of Talk, Grouplove, The Go-Gos

Crack the Sky: Tribes

This veteran prog-rock band from West Virginia via Baltimore returns with its instrumental virtuosity and its current-events awareness both in top form. This is the lead single and title track to an album expected early next year. Songwriter and lead singer John Palumbo describes the track as "an observation of the sharp divide in our country. Everyone has a tribe. Everyone believes their tribe is the one with all the answers, when the real answer is unity.” 

The Crayon Set: Don't Step Back Too Far

This Dublin alternative-pop band has a new album, Downer Disco, that was supposed to be out by now, but like many releases, has been postponed until autumn due to the pandemic. A couple of singles have spun out, and we're now catching up with a track that was released earlier this year but just reached our ears. The band says this song "touches on how it feels to be low, to have lost a sense of yourself and your place in the world.” Key lines: "Don't step back too far / you might forget who you are ... Please come here to me / I won't forget who you can be." 

Land of Talk: A/B Futures

The Montreal-based band headed by songwriter-vocalist-guitarist-keyboardist Elizabeth Powell returned from a seven-year hiatus with 2017's Life After Youth and now follows up with Indistinct Conversations. Backed by bassist Christopher McCarron and Mark “Bucky” Wheaton on drums and keys, Powell delivers sometimes stream-of-consciousness lyrics that suggest stories but don't quite tell them. Our featured track is one of the more upbeat and straightforward. "I'm your future lover," Powell sings over propulsive guitar, drums and synths. "If the spirit won't come to me, I got to it."

Grouplove: Inside Out

We dip back into the few-months-old LP Healer to pull out this bouncy track. The band just released a video for it, in which spouses and co-vocalists Hannah Hooper and Christian Zucconi run through largely deserted Los Angeles streets, occasionally meeting small groups of mask-wearing residents. The song's message that real change comes from within is "given added punch by a bass-heavy, post-punk groove," writes AllAccess.

The Go-Gos: Club Zero

In conjunction with a Showtime documentary about the band, The Go-Go's recorded and released their first new track in 19 years. Rolling Stone reports the song was created via email exchanges between band members, and self-produced from tracks laid down at studios in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Guitarist-vocalist Jane Wiedlin told the magazine the title was inspired by an '80s Hollywood after-hours joint called the Zero Zero Club. “I thought about how cool that title was. I just felt that the point of that song was the perfect thing for the Go-Go’s to say in 2020. We’re not putting up with this whole boys’ club anymore. ... It felt like what people needed to hear right now.”

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Fresh tracks from Dawes + My Morning Jacket + Joan Osborne + Sarah Harmer + Blindlove

Dawes: Who Do You Think You're Talking To?

The seventh studio album from Taylor Goldsmith and his band, Good Luck with Whatever, is due in October. In a statement about the project, Goldsmith indicated he gave his bandmates more say in shaping the tunes: "The other guys all have chops that I don’t have and never will." This single fits naturally into the Dawes oeuvre of 80s-California-style rock, influenced by the likes of Jackson Browne and the Eagles. Lyrically, it's another Goldsmith snapshot of a relationship shadowed by past relationships: "Who, who do you think you're talkin' to? / Is it the man that was here before me? / The one that wrecked you hard and walked ... It's clear, that's somethin' you're still workin' through." 

My Morning Jacket: Climbing The Ladder

This "new" music actually dates to 2014, when Jim James and his group spent time writing and recording at a mountaintop studio near California's Muir Woods. They recorded enough songs for a double or triple album, but decided to release a 10-track LP, 2015's The Waterfall. Five years later, they have rolled out The Waterfall II. Consequence of Sound calls it "a moody record, one whose bruised and dreamy soul-searching serves as the duskier bookend to its predecessor’s sun-dappled roaming." Our featured track is one of the most energetic in the collection. 

Joan Osborne: Take It Any Way I Can Get It

"We need songs that can energize us and lift us up in this current moment," the singer-songwriter says of this first single from her upcoming LP, Trouble and Strife. "If we can’t stay connected to that inner joy, we can’t help those who need us or even help ourselves.” Osborne self-produced this, her 10th album, recording with a large live band. She says the rest of the songs follow a similar theme of holding onto optimism, in order to survive “the crazy, chaotic times we’re living in.” (Fun fact: Osborne and Jim James were both born in Kentucky.)

Sarah Harmer: Take Me Out

We featured the single "New Low" last November, ahead of the release of this Ontario singer-songwriter's fifth album. The LP came out in February, so we're late getting back to it, but we're now featuring this upbeat song that Play MPE calls "a resilient, irrepressible burst of light and melody." The album is the first from Harmer in ten years. CBC writes that Harmer's "sense of story and melody [are] a set of timeless threads that allow her 2000 debut album, You Were Here, to pour seamlessly into her first album in a decade, Are You Gone. As for this song, Harmer told CBC she "had the arrangement and the melody and a few of those lines for 15 years probably."

Blindlove: I Wanna Be Okay

The debut single by this alternative-rock band from Salt Lake City is one of those songs that seems perfectly timed for this moment of fear and uncertainty. Taken as a whole, the lyric seems to be the lament of a brokenhearted person brooding in his room - as in the Simon & Garfunkel classic "I Am A Rock," but with more desperation than stoicism. We're guessing it was written before the pandemic, but its opening lines have taken on new resonance: "I'm scared to go out today / I'm anchored in doubt / Been pacing a line from the sink to the couch." The repeated, title line, "I Wanna Be Okay," sums up how many of us feel right now.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Our latest new-music picks: Benjamin Gibbard, Future Islands, Finnian, The Beths, Goldmyth

Benjamin Gibbard: Proxima B

The dream of escaping Earth and starting over on another planet is a recurring theme in art, and it seems especially apt today. Gibbard recorded this in isolation at his home in the state of Washington amid the coronavirus pandemic. It was written earlier, inspired by the even larger-scale crisis of climate change. "The ocean's rising and we're all gonna drown / But there's a place where you and I can go / We can start this whole mess all over ... We won't make the same mistakes twice."

Future Islands: For Sure

In its first release in three years, this Baltimore band sticks to its successful synth-rock sound. Rolling Stone sums it up well: "The track boasts a quintessential Future Islands blend of thumping drums, thick synths and a gooey bass line that anchors a swooning guitar. Frontman Samuel Herring delivers another characteristically mighty vocal performance, with Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner providing back-up on the chorus: 'I will never keep you from an open door / I know, you know / That’s how much I feel in everything you are / You know, I know.'"

Finnian: Fly

We fly to Ireland, where this Dundalk-based singer-songwriter is releasing a debut album that sounds like the accomplished work of a veteran musician. A couple of tracks have been in our playlist since they were released as singles last year, and they have a laid-back, easy sound that characterizes the first half of the LP. But in the latter part of Under the Influence (maybe the flip side of the vinyl?) Finnian stretches out into rockier, rootsier territory. This track features a rollicking barroom piano and a rough-edged vocal: "I'm gonna say goodbye / Wind of change gonna teach me to fly."

The Beths: Out of Sight

The success of their 2018 debut album, Future Me Hates Me, propelled this New Zealand quartet from playing clubs in the Auckland indie scene to international touring. Their new sophomore release, Jump Rope Gazers, "was heavily inspired by trying to maintain friendships from thousands of miles away," according to AllMusic. "The resulting set of songs takes on a yearning, more reflective point of view that makes room for slower tempos." While this collection is a bit less frenetic and more polished that the first, it maintains the band's blend of catchy pop hooks and leader Elizabeth Stokes' casual-sounding-yet-deep lyrics. "Though I know way down that I / Am out of mind, when out of sight," she sings on this track, "I keep a flame burning inside / If you need to bum a light."

Goldmyth: My Mistake

Music from this Utah singer-songwriter has been in our mix since the 2017 release of her debut EP, Faded Dream. Her primary instrument, the harp, is given the lead role on this dreamy new single. "The result is fully consuming, showing a melancholic pop sound with ample depth," writes indie music blog Obscure Sound. Of the lyrics, Goldmyth says: “In the past, I used to take on every crack in a relationship as my own personal mistake. ... This song is the breath of fresh air that surrounded me when I rolled down my window and drove into a new future.”

Friday, July 10, 2020

Good Times from The Suffers, plus The Jayhawks, Faded Paper Figures, Beach Riot, Rachel Beck

The Suffers: Take Me To The Good Times

The Houston-based band, featuring vocalist Kam Franklin, delivers what could be a theme song for everyone wishing for a post-pandemic, worry-free return to traveling, dining out, concert-going and other pleasures. "I just gotta get out most days you see / I like walking around it’s good for me," Franklin sings on this bouncy, horn-driven soundtrack for a celebratory strut through bustling city streets. It was written before lockdown but after the group was set back by personnel changes and the theft of a truckload of equipment. Franklin describes it as "a love letter to the road [and] a promise to get back to it." 

The Jayhawks: Little Victories

For their 11th album, XOXO, band members worked and lived together in a big, secluded Minnesota house. The result, says The Current, is that they "sound more like a band than ever. The mic gets passed around almost as often as it did back in the 60's and 70's when The Band made their classic albums." We previously featured the single "This Forgotten Town," and now we're adding "Little Victories," the lament of someone on the down-and-out, with vocal harmonies by guitarist Gary Louris, pianist Karen Grotberg and drummer Tim O'Reagan. 

Faded Paper Figures: Bones

Working together in one place is impractical for many bands under current conditions. But remote collaboration has been this indie-pop group's method of operation for years. Kael and Heather Alden met R. John Williams in California, where Kael was composing music for film and TV, Heather was studying medicine and Williams was getting his Ph.D. After they released an album in 2008, John moved east for a teaching position at Yale while Heather became a physician in California, but they continued on as a bi-coastal band. Their new EP, Kairos, is their eighth release. Our featured track showcases their mingling of voices, electronica and obscure lyrics: "A gang of kids and a gang of bones / turn your sidewalk curb to a wave of gold." 

Beach Riot: Wrong Impression

From the English seaside resort of Brighton comes this quartet dedicated to creating "hooky, loud, fuzz-laden pop tunes that make people lose their minds." We don't think this track will cause any harm to our listeners' brains - just give them a few minutes of bright, upbeat noise with a message of reassurance. "Imagine that you had the chance to go back in time to tell your younger self that you turn out alright," the band says about the song. "You’d do it, right? ... As we can’t go back in time, maybe take a moment. Next time you catch yourself in a reflection let yourself know it’s gonna be OK now."

Rachel Beck: Dancin'

The title suggests a happy dance tune, but the lyrics refer to society's failure to prevent or prepare for climate change. "We're dancin' on a grave ... Like Nero, play on, play on as flames get higher." The track is from the Prince Edward Island singer-songwriter's new EP, Stronger Than You Know, the follow-up to her self-titled 2018 debut. The Guardian calls the new release "a beautifully crafted electronic pop record with compelling rhythms, layers of piano and synthesizers and dreamy vocals that wash over you wave after wave."