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Saturday, June 23, 2018

Our latest picks: Amy Helm, The Record Company, Parker Milsap, Dawes & introducing Jessie Munro

We're very happy to hear that the wonderful Amy Helm has a new album on the way. The title track has just been released and jumped right into a featured slot in our New Music bin. "This Too Shall Light" is co-written by Mike Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger and songwriter-musician-producer Josh Kaufman. Rolling Stone says, "As is typical for the songs that Taylor writes [it] is steeped in the epic struggles of everyday people." Taylor says "It's a really sad song that swings, which is my favorite kind of music." Helm brings her powerful, passionate voice, which draws on the blues, gospel and country traditions that also informed her father Levon's music. Blends well with: Bonnie Raitt, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Delaney & Bonnie.

On their new album All Of This Life, L.A.s' The Record Company continue to bring fresh energy to good ol' rock-and-roll and blues-rock. As puts it, these guys "know their stuff and work together well: Chris Vos' guitar work is both inspired and concise, bassist Alex Stiff and Drummer Marc Cazorla give the music a strong and soulful foundation, and the vocals are full-bodied but generally stop a few notches short of histrionic." We previously featured the lead single, "Life To Fix," and our new fave is the harmonica-fueled stomp "I'm Getting Better (And I'm Feeling It Right Now)."

Parker Millsap is another young artist drawing on old-school rock-and-roll traditions, in his case mixed with country influences. His previous album was in more of a folk vein, but his new release, Other Arrangements, "mixes Millsap's voice - an otherworldly howl, shot through with equal parts Pentecostal punch and Southern swagger - with faster tempos and bursts of electric guitar," says Rolling Stone. That perfectly describes the single "Fine Line," now in our New Music bin.

We've been playing a couple of singles from Passwords, the latest from Dawes, and now that the full album has been released we're adding "Feed the Fire." The band expands a bit here on its California-70s-folk-rock sound, with a poppy groove and a touch of electric sitar. Taylor Goldsmith's lyric is a self-critical reflection on the show-biz life: "Working for attention that I'll eventually resent ... Trying to feed the fire / while hoping that it dies."

Moving a little more in the electro-pop direction, we find the debut single from Jessie Munro. (Thanks to The Revue for the introduction.) This Toronto native attended Berklee College of Music in Boston before moving to Los Angeles to pursue a recording career. From her forthcoming EP, On My Own, we have "Under Fire," a song about coping with social expectations and scrutiny. "It's taken it's toll and I'm stretched to the limit," Munro sings. "I'm thinking I shouldn't care as much as I do."

Saturday, June 16, 2018

More variety! New music by Interrupters, Death Cab, Curtis Harding, Middle Kids, Georgia Flood

We're short on time for writing about our featured New Music this week, but here are some quick notes on our cool-as-ever picks:

"She's Kerosone," a punk-ska romp by The Interrupters from their soon-to-be-released third studio album, Fight the Good Fight. Frontwoman Aimee says it's about breaking free from a toxic relationship. "He said, I’m a match, she’s kerosene / You know she’s gonna burn down everything."

"Gold Rush," the first single from a new Death Cab for Cutie album, Thank You For Today, due in August. Benjamin Gibbard told NPR it's about how a neighborhood - in his case, in Seattle - changes over time. "The song is not a complaint about how things were better or anything like that. It's an observation, but more about coming to terms with the passage of time."

"It's Not Over" by Curtis Harding, his first new release since last year's acclaimed Face Your Fear LP. calls it "a solid return, one infused by a future-facing sense of what 'soul' can mean in 21st century songwriting."

"Never Start" by Middle Kids, another track from the Lost Friends album that came out last month and made us even bigger fans of the Australian trio. There's tension in this face-paced number, as Hannah Joy sings: "I'm not trying to start a fight here / but it's building up inside / and you don't even know."

"Love That Hurts," the latest single from Atlanta alt-rockers The Georgia Flood. It has an 80s-throwback sound and a buoyant beat that needs to be pumping from speakers at summer pool parties.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

New tunes from Roger Daltrey, Dave Matthews, Samantha Clemons, Stars, Andrew McMahon

We're always working to put together a great mix of new and classic rock/pop/etc. So of course we're always happy when artists from the classic era bring out vital new music. This week we welcome a new solo record from Roger Daltrey, As Long As I Have You. As Rolling Stone writes, the voice of the Who returns here to what that band (and other British bands of the period) started out doing: covering American R&B, soul and blues. We're featuring the title track, which RS says is "a pleading, horn-accented R&B barnburner by Garnet Mimms [that] Daltrey sang with the Who when they were called the High Numbers in the early Sixties. Seventy-four-year-old Daltrey's voice is a little gruffer than it was when he was a young buck, but it's as strong and passionate as ever."

Turning to another music veteran, although from a more-recent era: Dave Matthews Band has released its first album since 2012, Come Tomorrow. We've been playing the single "Samurai Cop (Oh Joy Begin)," an oddly-titled ode to a newborn. Now we're featuring "Idea Of You," an upbeat jam about young love that lasts. The album was put together in stages over several years, and this track was apparently built around a live recording from several years ago. It includes the late saxophonist LeRoi Moore and violinist Boyd Tinsley, who has since left the band. As The New York Times writes, the album "earnestly embraces fatherhood, commitment, lifelong romance and hope for the next generations."

Switching from established stars to a newcomer, we dip back into the stunning debut EP by Samantha Clemons, Burn. Her deeply soulful music could easily be mistaken for the work of a world-weary veteran, but infused with youthful passion. We featured the title track a few weeks ago (and of course it remains in our mix), and now we're adding "Love For Me." While "Burn" is a song of social commentary, the lyric here is one of disappointment with a potential lover: "You said you had love for me / I don't think you know what that means."

In the eight months after releasing their latest album, There Is No Love In Fluorescent Light, Montreal's Stars have already brought out two singles. We've been playing March's "Ship to Shore," and now we're adding the brand-new "One Day Left." The band describes it as a song about "the last 12 hours you spend with someone you love" - but whom you know you're leaving. It's a duet between singers Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan, backed by soaring pop-rock that gives this moment of parting a somehow hopeful feeling.

The latest single from Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, "Ohio," paints the scene of a different kind of separation - a family's move from its home to a new life in a new place. Amid images of a long car trip across the country and hopes for a bright future in California, there are hints of an unhappy motive for the journey: "And we can't look back / Some men you just can't save / We had our reasons for leaving / it's better this way."

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Introducing Arthur Buck, River Whyless, Three Star Revival + new music from Super Doppler and Maggie Rogers

Former R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck and singer-songwriter Joseph Arthur have crossed paths numerous times over the years, with Arthur opening for R.E.M. shows, Buck sometimes backing Arthur, and Arthur playing at Buck's Todos Santos Music Festival in Mexico. Last year, they spent some time together at a house Buck owns in Todos Santos, and the result is a collaboration, called simply Arthur Buck, and an album of the same name. Considering the folk-rock background of both performers, the sound is a bit surprising. The opening track, "I Am the Moment," begins with a bit of Buck's guitar that instantly evokes his former band. But as Arthur begins to sing, the track suddenly expands with sound samples, electronic overdubs and layered vocals in a style more similar to Beck. It's an intriguing sound that fits well into our eclectic mix.

Likewise blending folk-rock with other sounds -- a bit of dream-pop, a touch of psychedelia -- is River Whyless with their new song "Darkness In Mind." Thanks to the great music website The Revue for introducing us to this quartet from Asheville, N.C. After releasing a self-titled EP in 2015, the quartet "enthralled the audience at the prestigious Newport Folk Festival," The Revue wrote. "They continued down this path on their debut album, We All the Light, but it seems like they’re going in a slightly different direction for their sophomore LP," called Kindness, A Rebel. "Ryan O’Keefe (guitars, vocals) and Halli Anderson (violin, vocals) ... tell us to keep our heads up and move forward, to keep coming up with new ideas, to listen for the bells, and believe that better things will come." Alex McWalters (drums, percussion), and Daniel Shearin (bass, vocals, harmonium, cello, banjo) round out the line-up and the sound.

From Asheville we drive six hours or so east to Norfolk, Va., to catch up again with Super Doppler, a band we've featured before. There's some psychedelic influence in their music too, along with old-school rock-and-roll and a bit of country. We hear a lot of The Beatles in tracks like their latest single, "Oh Yeah," with its close harmonies, Magical-Mystery-era swirling sound and a long Hey Jude-ish outro. Since we grew up on The Beatles, that sounds good to us.
Still in the Southeast U.S., but jumping west to Tennessee, we meet up with Three Star Revival. Formed in 2015 by singer-songwriter Ben Gaines and guitarist Cameron Moore, this five-piece describes itself as "incorporating sounds from across the Americana landscape and beyond, with forays into funk, soul, R&B and jazz." The five tracks on their new EP, Fade Away, all go in different directions. We're featuring the slow-dance soul number "Move A Little Bit." (Hat tip to Noisetrade for turning us on to this band.)

Last year, Maggie Rogers saw sudden success with the single "Alaska" and EP Now That the Light is Fading. Now signed to Capitol Records and currently on tour in Europe with HAIM, she's expected to release an album soon, and in the meantime has just spun out a single "Fallingwater." "Call it folktronica or electro-folk, whatever the term her music is engaging," says The Revue, adding that on this track, "Rogers' voice is much fuller and even more stunning than before."

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Rubblebucket, Daniel Pearson, Ennor, Ay Wing and more Eels music added to our big mix

We're pleased to have new music from Rubblebucket, even though they're no longer the full band that we'd come to know and love. For the upcoming album Sun Machine, the Brooklyn-based group basically consists simply of founders Kalmia Traver and Alex Toth, coming out on the other side of health and personal issues. Judging by the first song to spin out, "Fruity," their sound is a bit more subdued than it was with the bigger band, but still bounces along with a rich mix of percussion, winds, guitar and synthesizer. We look forward to the full album in August.

Daniel Pearson is one of those artists whose sound more-or-less fits the Americana category - but who isn't American (Mumford & Sons being a well-known example). Pearson is an English singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who cites the likes of Springsteen, REM and Ryan Adams among his influences. His most recent album was 2015's Alone, Together, but he's put out a string of singles in the past couple of months, and we're picking up the latest, "Until The Sun Comes Up." Pearson brings a full-band sound to this upbeat song, which he describes as being "about refusing to take things lying down and never giving up."

Also from England, and hewing a bit more to an English-folk-rock sound, is Ennor. This four-piece is from Cornwall, the southwestern-most part of the U.K. that juts into the sea, and the band's name is that of a large island that's believed to have once existed off the coast where the smaller Isles of Scilly now lie. So it's fitting that we're introduced to them with a song called "Wave After Wave." It's described as "a melancholic reflection on climate change," pondering the question, "at what point will we have gone too far?" Starting quietly with acoustic guitar and vocal harmonies, the track swells to a rock crescendo.

Mixing things up as we usually do, we turn from folk-rock to the "beat-driven fluorescent synth-pop" of Swiss-born, Berlin-based Ay Wing. Her new EP, Ice Cream Dream, does tend toward the sweet side, but we're picking up the slightly edgier "Strange." In a bit of a St. Vincent vein, the song comments on "digital narcissism" -- the modern urge to turn one's life into a show on social media, showing off your strange-ness because you're "afraid to be forgotten." In the song's video, the singer casts herself as various movie characters taking selfies.

Also entering our New Music bin this week is another track from the new album by Eels, The Deconstruction. "Today Is The Day" (like our previous featured track, "You Are The Shining Light") fits the album's theme of casting off old ideas and attitudes, taking life as it comes and making the best of it. "Today is the day that you see me / As a man who will always change / Who knows the only things to count on / Are life is quick, and life is strange."

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Great new music by Samantha Clemons, Dawes, Middle Kids, Hannah Gill and Traitrs

This week we're especially pleased to be able to introduce our listeners to Samantha Clemons. This Texas singer-songwriter set out to make acoustic pop music, but according to her bio, shifted her style as she "began channeling her frustration and disappointment at the dramatic social and political shifts of recent years." The title track of her upcoming EP Burn, Clemons says, "reflects the idea that we’ve just been talking past one another and have lost sight of the fact that we occupy a lot of common ground." It's a gripping song with lyrics that can be heard two ways: as angry, aggressive refusal to listen, or a courageous, adamant refusal to submit. "Mine fit me just fine / No need to walk in your shoes." Clemons sings with a soulful power reminiscent of Tracy Chapman and Rhiannon Giddens. We're looking forward to hearing much more.

Concern about the state of society has become a common theme in music lately, for obvious reasons. "Living In The Future," the new single from Dawes, is frank in its paranoia. "I'm always looking over shoulders / Not knowing what I'm looking for / Now that the feeling someone's watching / Isn't just a feeling anymore." Frontman Taylor Goldsmith says that on the band's upcoming album, Passwords, "many of the songs are an attempt to come to terms with the modern world, while always trying to consider both sides of the story." The album is due June 22.

Australia's Middle Kids had their breakout moment in the Western hemisphere last year with the release of an EP that spawned the hit "Edge Of Town." Earlier this year came the single "Mistake," and now we have their first full-length collection, Lost Friends. Pitchfork describes it as "a record that’s all about fumbling your way through insecurities, indecision, and embarrassments. In singer/guitarist Hannah Joy, the band has a captivating mouthpiece who deftly navigates these emotional minefields with equal parts panic and poise, thanks to a naturally trembling voice that can harden into tough-love sentiment." Our pick for the New Music bin is "Bought It," which Joy says is based on "walking around trying to feel like we’re OK but actually we’re not sure if we are."

Twenty-year-old Hannah Gill has a voice that erupts from your speakers like a force of nature. On 2016's The Water, she and her band The Hours created a sweeping Florence-and-the-Machine-like sound. Her new release, Lost in Words, encompasses a variety of styles, starting with the sultry torch song "Lose" and including a sharp-tongued rebuke of a drug abuser, "Medicine." We're featuring a swinging, brassy number called "Here To Stay."

Check out a great batch of videos of the band performing live at Paste Studios.
The fine folks at The Revue introduced us to Traitrs, a Toronto duo that defines itself as post-punk and would fit right in with bands of that 80s genre. On "The Suffering of Spiders," from their just-released debut album Butcher's Coin, the resemblance to The Cure is uncanny. The dark, moody sound. The plaintive wail of the singer, Sean-Patrick Nolan. Even a lyric about spiders! But this is no tribute band: Nolan and Shawn Tucker are building on their influences to create a sound that Tucker says strives to "give you goosebumps, chills, a feeling inside that can’t be explained."

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Beach House, Arctic Monkeys, Rita Coolidge, Meg Myers, Carvin Jones Band - Lots of variety in our New Music picks

The latest releases causing big buzz in the loosely defined "alternative music" world are from Arctic Monkeys and Beach House. Reviews of both emphasize shifts in the bands' styles - but the critics' reactions are quite different.

Beach House is receiving a lot of praise for innovating its sound, in part by switching producers for its seventh album, simply titled 7. Consequence of Sound calls it a "sprawling adventure ... imbued with a restless energy and excitement." Pitchfork says it's "their heaviest and most immersive-sounding album. It’s darker, thicker, set at a deeper spot in the woods." From Rolling Stone: "This is the least introverted record Beach House have ever made; it'll still blow your mind with candles lit and headphones on, but it's the first time they've sounded like a band you might want to hear at a party with more than one guest." For all that, the immersive soundscape of 7 is quite recognizable as a Beach House album. The singles "Lemon Glow" and "Dive" are already in our mix, and we're now featuring the opening track, "Dark Spring."

By contrast, the Arctic Monkeys' Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is getting a more mixed reception. It's a concept album with an out-there premise: The moon has been colonized - gentrified, even - and we're listening to a lunar lounge singer in a casino bar. Rolling Stone's 2-star review says "It's an adventurous, Bowie-esque conceit ... but the meandering LP can't bear the weight." Spin takes a kinder view, saying "the more you give in to these vibes, the more the vibes give back." Our restless ears don't want to settle in for 40 minutes in the bar, but we're stopping in long enough to hear "Four Out Of Five" - which frontman Alex Turner tells Pitchfork is about the taco shop on the hotel's roof. We can imagine Ziggy Stardust grabbing a snack there with a Starman.

Have we mentioned before that we like to include a wide variety of musical styles in our big mix? We turn next to a new album from Rita Coolidge, whose long career as a folk/country/pop/rock singer and songwriter got its start in the '70s L.A. music scene, backing up the likes of Eric Clapton, Leon Russell, Stephen Stills and Dave Mason. Her new release, Safe in the Arms of Time, was produced at L.A.'s Sunset Sound, where she recorded her earliest solo albums. “The idea was making an album that had the same appeal of my early records – to make a roots record about my own roots,” Coolidge says. Some of its tracks are quiet and reflective, but we're featuring an upbeat song of long-lasting love, "Naked All Night."

Another veteran musician with a new release is blues guitarist Carvin Jones, who's been touring and recording since the early 1990s. Based in Phoenix, Jones was once called "the new king of strings" by Buddy Miles and was named on of the 50 greatest blues guitarists by Guitarist Magazine. The latest incarnation of the Carvin Jones Band recorded What A Good Day in Spain last year and is about to launch a tour across Canada, starting in Calgary June 8 and finishing at Montreal's Club Soda June 21. After that it's back to the States and various other points around the globe. We're adding the title track to our New Music bin.

Back in the realm of alternative rock, Meg Myers will release her second full-length album, Take Me To the Disco, in July and has already spun out a single, "Numb." The track veers from brooding to crying out, as the lyric describes how pressure to live up to expectations can cause emotional shut-down. It seems to be the story of a musician dealing with a pushy manager/promotor/record label, but could apply to a child with an overbearing parent, or many other scenarios. "I hate the feeling of this weight upon my shoulders ... You think you want the best for me but ... if you force it, it won't come."

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Latest by Rachael Sage, Crooked Teeth, The Perms, The Wolfe, Erika Wennerstrom join our mix

New York singer-songwriter-producer Rachael Sage grabbed our attention a few years ago when we saw her share a stage with Judy Collins. That makes us relative latecomers, as she's been performing and recording for more than two decades. Sage has just released her 13th album, Myopia, and it's arguably her best collection. It includes a cover of Howard Jones' "No One Is To Blame" (Sage just finished a tour with him). But it's her original songs that make a big impression -- ranging from the upbeat, optimistic "Alive" to an unsettling look into the mind of a misanthrope, "Sympathy Seed." Our pick for the New Music bin is the very catchy "Olivia." Sage tells BlackBook that the song is inspired by a certain "fiercely intelligent, empathetic and heroic character" on television.

From a very different part of the music spectrum comes Crooked Teeth, an electro/dance band from Glasgow by way of London. Their debut single for indie label Lost In The Manor, "Mountain Song," mixes synths, guitars and electronic beats into a swirl of sound that could fill a dance club or provide the soundtrack for a road trip.

Indie-rock trio The Perms released their fourth album, Miracle, a few months back, but it's taken a while for it to reach our ears from their home base in Winnipeg. They specialize in the compact, under-three-minute pop song, and we're picking up a perfect 2:32 example, the bouncy single "Lose Yourself."

From just a bit farther west, in Saskatchewan, comes The Wolfe, a female rock/power-pop trio that's just released its second EP, Strange Words. We're spinning the single, "Tip Of My Tongue." Canadian Beats called it "a nice balance of catchy pop energy with that rock-and-roll edge."

And we've decided we haven't heard enough of Erika Wennerstrom, the Heartless Bastards vocalist who released her solo album, Sweet Unknown, several weeks ago. So we're dipping back into that set for the hypnotic slow-burner "Extraordinary Love." Wennerstrom says the song is about loving oneself first: "If I can't be kind and loving to myself how can I expect anybody else to?"

Saturday, April 28, 2018

New sounds in our mix: Jim James, Courtney Barnett, Artmagic, Signs to the City, Too Slim

In making our weekly New Music picks, we like to feature a mix of well-known artists and those that are new, emerging, or outside the mainstream. This week we've got each of those categories covered.

Jim James of My Morning Jacket is brewing up another solo album, Uniform Distortion, for release this summer. He's described it as having a theme relating to "the amount of information we are forced to consume on a daily basis, and how that information is so distorted there is almost no longer any tangible truth." We're not sure how the first single fits in (other than its distorted guitar licks). "Just A Fool" seems more like the lament of a performer who feels like a phony: "Going through the motions with the mic in my hand / Playing hard to get, pretending like I understand." 

Courney Barnett's Tell Me How You Really Feel is due in a couple of weeks, and we now have the third song to spin out from that collection. "City Looks Pretty" starts out as an upbeat rocker about urban living - "Friends treat you like a stranger and / strangers treat you like their best friend." After the line "pull yourself together and just calm down," the song shifts into a quieter, slow jam. The track joins Tell Me's "Nameless, Faceless" and "Need A Little Time" in our big playlist.

Artmagic is a collaboration between veteran singer-songwriter-producer Sean McGhee, known for working with Alison Moyet, Imogen Heap, Dido and others, and guitarist Richard Oakes of British post-punk band Suede. Together, they go off in their own unique direction. From their latest release, The Songs of Other England," we're featuring "The Clean Room." McGhee aptly describes it as "melodic and anxious alternative/indie rock with martial drums, droning synths and brittle guitars." The lyric describes a place of escape/imprisonment: "The perfect cage, where sadness will not thrive and joy won't take ... where inertia harbors you."
Signs to the City is a four-piece alternative-rock band based in British Columbia and fronted by Jarrett Lobley, whose "day job" is making house calls as a family physician. They craft mostly mid-tempo, thoughtfully lyrical music, but with a wide range of sonic styles. They recently released their first album, Not Made of Miracles, and embarked on a European tour. Our pick for the New Music bin, "Last Time," mixes simple piano chords with layers of synths and other instruments for a sound reminiscent of Sgt. Pepper. We'll also be giving some spins to "Unstable," a track with a bit of a U2 vibe.

Also added to our mix this week: A solid dose of blues/rock from Too Slim and the Taildraggers. Slide-guitar ace Tim Langford and his crew from Spokane, Wash., just released their seventh album, High Desert Heat. In a rather audacious move, they include a cover of The Chambers Brothers' "Time Has Come Today." But we're featuring one of the nine original tunes, "Trouble," a straight-shooting guitar-drum-harmonica number with a timeless sound.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

From the USA, UK, Norway and France - Here are this week's New Music picks

After the smashing success of their Grammy-nominated debut album, Los Angeles retro-rock band The Record Company is preparing to release its sophomore effort, All Of This Life. The first single, "Life To Fix," dropped on Friday and immediately landed on NPR Music's "Songs We Love" list and a Rolling Stone best-of-the-week list. The venerable rock magazine called it "a rough-and-tumble ode to hitting rock bottom and building yourself 'back up, brick by brick.' Fans of the band's rootsy take on rock & roll should dig the track, which isn't so much a return to form as it is taking that form to a big new level."

Photo: Alex John Beck
Ash, a trio of alternative rockers from Northern Ireland, has a long and colorful history (amusingly documented here) and a strong UK following, but is less well known on the western side of the Atlantic. And we have to admit we're not familiar with their catalog. But the new single "Annabel," from their forthcoming seventh studio album, Islands, caught our ear with a pop-punk sound that brings us back to the 90s. They'll be stopping in Boston, Toronto, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles in September.

Frank Turner's next album, Be More Kind, is due May 5 but he's already released five tracks. The latest is "Blackout" - literally about a power outage, but as Turner says, "It’s about how we might collectively respond to social dislocation and collapse.” Which, the song suggests, is already going on around us. "We're all caught in the blackout / Trying to feel our way out."

From the British Isles we jump over to Norway, where Aurora has released a new single, "Queendom." The song imagines a magical land where the powerless are empowered under a benevolent queen. "You have a home in my queendom," she sings. She says the song is "about the shy people and the lonely people, and I hope it can be a place where we can come and be lonely together and then not be lonely anymore." There's word that this track will be on an upcoming album, expected to appear in the fall.

Also finding its way into our New Music bin this week is a track by a band from Nice, France, with the curious name Kill the Moose. "We are largely influenced by the shoegaze scene and British rock from the 90’s," says guitarist Alex Ornon. In recent months they've put out three EPs, and from the most recent, Good Girl, we're picking up on the nervously dreamy "Omen." "Another graceful day has come to be," sings vocalist Elisabeth Massena. "It's more than I can take."