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Saturday, February 17, 2024

Our latest adds: Middle Kids, Bridget Kearney, Maggie Rogers, Marcus King, Pearl Jam

Middle Kids: Terrible News

Photo by Pooneh Ghana
We can't resist saying that the release of this Australian band's latest LP, Faith Crisis Pt. 1, is actually good news to our ears. The trio of singer/guitarist Hannah Joy, bassist Tim Fitz (her husband) and drummer Harry Day continue to make buoyant pop-rock songs out of Joy's angsty thoughts. "And I can’t take it / Sitting in this noisy room / With all these wound up people / Giving terrible news ... I don’t know who I am or what I’m supposed to prove."

Bridget Kearney: Security Camera

More good news: The bassist from Lake Street Dive will release her second solo album, Comeback Kid, in April. This sprightly number imagines being able to rewatch a happy memory of a past romance. "Security camera, roll back the tape / I wanna see that day that he stole my heart." Says Kearney: "The moral of the story is that even though life is ephemeral, these fleeting moments of bliss that come and go are actually ours forever because we carry them with us in our minds."

Maggie Rogers: Don't Forget Me

This is the title track from the singer-songwriter's third studio album, also coming in April. She says she wrote the songs in a burst of creativity over five days in December 2022 and January 2023. She credits co-producer Ian Fitchuk with co-writing eight of its ten songs and playing most of the instruments on the album.

Marcus King: Mood Swings

The guitar phenom is prepping his third solo album, this one produced by Rick Rubin at his Shangri-La Studios in Malibu, Calif. Variety magazine writes that the LP "promises to probe new depths for King, both musically and psychologically, as Rubin encouraged him to dig deeper into his soulful side as a musician, as well as explore his personal demons as someone who is finding his way away from self-medicating. ... [T]he album can overall best be described as: What if Al Green also played a mean axe and made a record about dealing with anxiety and depression?"

Pearl Jam: Dark Matter

Photo by Danny Clinch
Rounding out this week's New Music bin is this hard-hitting title song from the grunge-scene veterans' upcoming 12th studio album. Consequence of Sound writes that the track "opens with thunderous drums from Matt Cameron that would do Phil Collins proud, before Jeff Ament’s baritone guitar comes purring in. [Producer Andrew] Watt highlights some phrases with guitar reverb so intense it approaches static, while [Eddie] Vedder’s voice explores the 'strange' days 'when everybody else pays for someone else’s mistake.'"

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Sarah Jarosz, Dentist, Bleachers, Blitzen Trapper + introducing Brigitte Calls Me Baby

Sarah Jaroz: Take The High Road

The lyrics of this song "are almost a thesis" for her new album, Polaroid Lovers, Jarosz told The New York Times. "You know, ‘I’m tired of being quiet — time to face up to the fear.’" The newspaper's veteran music critic Jon Pareles says that on her seventh studio album, "Jarosz reaches toward a broader audience while still maintaining her individuality. The songs are more plugged in, muscular and reverberant than her past albums, which were intimate and largely acoustic. But her particular perspective — at once clearheaded, thoughtful, vulnerable and open to desire — comes through."

Dentist: Random Numbers Shapes and Colors

Here's the first new song from the Asbury Park, N.J., indie-rock trio since its 2022 album Make A Scene. The band says that, when invited by Shore Points Records to be included on a compilation album, "we agreed even though we had no new songs in the can. After going through voice memos and old demos, we were coming up empty, so with just a couple days before our recording session, we decided to write a song from scratch. It was all very spontaneous, but we’re super happy with the result and we hope you enjoy it too."

Bleachers: Tiny Moves

This single from the upcoming album Bleachers is basically a love letter from its frontman, the ubiquitous Jack Antonoff, to his bride, actress Margaret Qualley. "The tiniest moves you make / The whole damn world shakes." The accompanying video features ballet-trained Qualley performing a modern dance beside the Hudson River and then embracing Antonoff as the sun rises over Manhattan in the background. 

Blitzen Trapper: Cosmic Backseat Education

From the Portland, Ore., band's upcoming album, 100’s of 1000’s, Millions of Billions, comes this single that lead singer-songwriter Eric Earley says recalls "lying in the backseat of my parents’ car as a kid and just listening to the radio, which I think is where I got most of the education that I’ve used in my life and my career." And yes, the lyric also mentions another type of education gained in the backseat of a Chevy.

Brigitte Calls Me Baby: Impressively Average

Wes Leavins, leader of this emerging Chicago band, says that as a young teen he listened to records by Roy Orbison, Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley at his grandparents' house, and to the likes of The Strokes and Radiohead with his friends. "I fell in love with both worlds simultaneously," he told NME. "It’s strong voices that I think I really love, just voices with a lot of character." Those influences come together on the group's debut album, This House Is Made of Corners, and this lead single.

Saturday, February 3, 2024

New Music: Brittany Howard, Night Talks, Cage the Elephant, Norah Jones - and yes, Billy Joel

Brittany Howard: Prove It To You

The second solo album from the Alabama Shakes alumna, What Now, grew from songs she wrote during the pandemic. “[M]y heart was going through so many things," she tells The New York Times. "There was all this sorrow about seeing the world on fire, seeing people the same color as you getting beaten in the streets. On the other hand, I was falling in love.” This song speaks of the early stages of love (although that romance didn't last). Howard's soft vocal is backed by a disco beat, just one of many musical styles she explores on the LP. 

Night Talks: Double Vision

We managed to catch one of our favorite indie bands playing at a club in their home town of Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago, and heard this song just before it was released. The performance filled the room with energy and had fans singing along with frontwoman Soraya Sebghati. As with their other recordings, this latest single manages to capture a lot of that energy in-studio.

Cage The Elephant: Neon Pill

Photo by Neil Krug
The song title and the lyric - "It’s a hit and run, oh no / Double-crossed by a neon pill" - seems to refer to sudden intoxication, whether from a literal pill or a love affair. Is Matthew Shultz is singing about past troubles with drugs or romance? Perhaps both. NME calls the band's first new music in five years an "angsty" single. 

Norah Jones: Running

The multi-Grammy-winning singer-songwriter-pianist will release her ninth studio album, Visions, next month. It's a collaboration with producer and multi-instrumentalist Leon Michels, who also co-write this first single and adds drums and baritone sax to Jones's vocals, piano, guitar, and bass. Says Jones: "The reason I called the album Visions is because a lot of the ideas came in the middle of the night or in that moment right before sleep, and ‘Running’ was one of them where you're half asleep and kind of jolted awake."

Billy Joel: Turn The Lights Back On

Not that he ever went away - as he has continued to tour and to make New York's Madison Square Garden his personal listening room - but Joel is back as a recording artist with his first original song in 17 years. The lyric certainly plays off the idea of comeback, but in the context of relationship: "I’m late / But I’m here right now / ... I see you now / As we’re laying in the darkness / Did I wait too long / To turn the lights back on?" Consequence of Sound writes that the single demonstrates Joel's enduring talent: "The recording is surprisingly raw. Never mind autotune — Joel allows his voice to wobble and occasionally brush against a wrong note, which only further highlights how nearly perfect the 74-year-old sounds."

Saturday, January 27, 2024

New releases by Mark Knopfler, Future Islands, Positive People, The Vaccines, Driven Snow

Mark Knopfler: Ahead of the Game

Photo by Murdo MacLeod
April will bring us the 10th solo album by the guitarist and former Dire Straits bandleader. Knopfler says the title, One Deep River, reflects his attachment to the Tyne, which flows through Newcastle, in northeast England, where he grew up. “Crossing the Tyne is always on your mind,” he says. “It’s what you were doing when you were leaving as a youngster, and that feeling is always the same every time you do it. You’re heading out or you’re coming back, and it just connects with your childhood. The power of it doesn’t go away.” Stereogum calls this first single "a dreamy, propulsive spin on the expert-level guitar-pop Knopfler has been kicking out for decades, metropolitan but seasoned with notes of blues, country, and folk."

Future Islands: Say Goodbye

Photo by Frank Hamilton
Speaking of Dire Straits, the theme of their classic song "So Far Away" - trying to maintain a relationship across distance and time zones - is echoed in this track from the new album by Sam Herring and company. "I'll be alright / When you're on my time." But there's a sense of foreboding here: "Every day without you feels one closer to goodbye." And indeed, this and other songs on People Who Aren't There Anymore apparently refer to the breakup of Herring's romance with Swedish actress Julia Ragnarsson, in part due to being separated by Covid lockdowns.

Positive People: Off/On

New to our ears, and likely yours, is the duo of Olenka Krakus and Jeffrey Moon, who are also members of Montreal band Olenka & the Autumn Lovers. Their self-titled debut album is billed as a collection of "bright melodies that mask a darker subject matter." This track features Olenka's smooth vocals, while others on the LP mix it with Jeffrey's rougher voice (a la July Talk). The lyric suggests an indecipherable message: "I can’t begin to paint the picture / sort the mixture into /off and on and off and on."

The Vaccines: Heartbreak Kid

The British indie-rock band just released its sixth studio album, Pick-Up Full of Pink Carnations. Lead singer Justin Young says of this track: "There are two types of people in the world – people that have had their heart broken and people that haven’t had their heart broken yet. ... [the song is] a reminder that in a world where too many of us feel too detached too often, facing your feelings head-on can make you feel more alive, even if it feels like the world is ending."

Driven Snow: Sunlight

Kieran McGuinness and Emily Aylmer are about to release their debut album, A Kind of Dreaming. It pulls together several singles the married Dublin duo released in the past two years (such as "Flickers of You" and "In Moonlight," previously in our New Music bin), along with brand-new tunes. We didn't catch this one when it was issued last year, so we're using the LP release as an excuse to feature it now. 

Saturday, January 20, 2024

A Mumford & Sons/Pharrell Williams collab, plus The Strumbellas, Jeen, Jane's Party, The Smile

Mumford & Sons + Pharrell Williams: Good People

The British trio and the American hip-hop/R&B artist met during festival tours over a decade ago, we're told, and reconnected last summer at Pharrell’s "Something in the Water" festival at Virginia Beach. They decided to join up in New York and then Paris to write and record some new songs, with Pharrell producing. 

They are joined on this track by the Native Vocalists, a six-member choir made up of members of Native American tribes from the U.S. and Canada. The song had its first live performance as part of Pharrell's presentation at Paris Fashion Week this month.

The Strumbellas: Hold Me

This first single in two years from the Toronto-based folkie-indie-rock group heralds its fifth album, Part Time Believer, due in a couple of weeks. Band member David Ritter (keyboards, percussion, vocals) says of the album's theme: "I think people often feel like things are escaping them, or they’re trying to grab on to something - happiness, gratitude, professional or personal goals - and for some reason, they just can’t get there. Even if they get the thing they want, it doesn’t feel the way they thought it would. A lot of these songs are about trying to, like, figure out why we’re all feeling this way, and how we can find more peace in our lives."

Jeen: So What

The about-to-be-released album Gold Control is touted as "hazy, heady, hedonistic and hopeful," and this track as its emotional centerpiece. "It’s about never-ending uphill battles,” the singer-songwriter says, “and wishing you could freeze time to stay with someone you can’t enough of." The album is another collaboration with Canadian rock veteran Ian Blurton, who has co-produced Jeen's last five albums.

Jane's Party: Common Guys

This Toronto quartet's last full-length was Casual Party, released in the pre-pandemic days of 2019. Since then they've put out an album of live tracks and a few singles, and they kicked off 2024 with this fun number, described as "walking a very fine line between polished dance-pop and slacker indie rock." It was written by bassist Devon Richardson and vocalist/guitarist Tom Ionesu, who says the concept is "grade 8 school dance, after school in the gym, trying to muster up the courage to ask a girl out."

The Smile: Wall Of Eyes

Photo by Frank Lebon
We're picking up the title track from the new album by the side project of Radiohead's Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood plus Sons of Kemet's Tom Skinner. The Guardian writes: "As with [The Smile's] first album, you would be hard-pushed to describe Wall of Eyes as anything other than Radiohead-esque. But for an album so thick with disquiet and gloom, there is a strange sense of ease about much of it," adding that "there are lovely, tumbling chord sequences and vaguely Latin rhythms underpinning" this opening number.