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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."

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Our latest new-music picks: Florence + Snow Patrol + Bad Wolves + Saltwater Sun + Hey Ocean!

Florence + The Machine is preparing to release a new album, High As Hope in June. The first single, "Sky Full of Song," is scheduled to hit stores as a 7" vinyl single on Record Store Day, April 21st. Florence Welch describes it as "a song that just fell out of the sky fully formed. Sometimes when you are performing you get so high, it’s hard to know how to come down. There is this feeling of being cracked open, rushing endlessly outwards and upwards, and wanting somebody to hold you still, bring you back to yourself. It’s an incredible, celestial, but somehow lonely feeling."

Thanks to The Revue we recently discovered another female-fronted U.K. band, Saltwater Sun, and their new single, "The Wire." The song is a commentary on how the hyper-connectivity of modern society seems to be causing more division than unity. "There seems of late / A currency of hate," sings lead vocalist Jennifer Stearnes over ringing guitars and driving percussion. "Choose your words and make’em hurt / Get the final blow in first / Whatever gets the win.”

After working on solo projects for the past few years, the Vancouver-based trio Hey Ocean! has reunited and released The Hurt of Happiness. As Exclaim wrote, the band described the album "as seeking to bridge their pop and more experimental tendencies when announcing the record, and it largely succeeds ... bouncing between moods and styles with ease." Although hailing from the West Coast, David Beckingham, Ashleigh Ball, and David Vertesi put together a sound that reminds us a bit of an East Coast trio, Port Cities. Entering our new music bin is the album's title track, a mid-tempo number featuring tight harmonies among the three vocalists.

Our big mix doesn't usually include heavy-metal bands, but LA's Bad Wolves is out with a cover of The Cranberries' "Zombie" that is more of a melodic and lyrical hard-rock record. It's also a terrific song -- and still very relevant to our times, unfortunately, as new generations continue to fight old wars around the world. Its writer and original singer, Dolores O'Riordan, was scheduled to add her own vocal to the cover on the very day that she passed away. Bad Wolves singer Tommy Vext said in a statement, “It was the greatest honor to know she liked our version and wanted to sing on it. We’re deeply saddened by the sudden loss of Dolores and by the fact that she’s leaving behind three children so we are donating the proceeds from the song to her kids."

Also added to our new music bin this week, Snow Patrol's "Don't Give In," a message about resisting inner demons. Frontman Gary Lightbody says the song "was originally about a friend going through a tough time, but the more I wrote into it, I realised it was about me and the struggle of making the album ... coupled with the struggle with depression I’ve had since I was a kid, so it has become the talisman of the album. The song that became a self-fulfilling prophecy.” The album, Wildness, is due next month.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Our latest picks: Wye Oak, Eels, Alice Merton, Super Doppler, Flora Cash

Due to time constraints, we only have brief notes this week on our featured new music. But it's the music that matters, not our comments, right? Here are our latest picks:

Wye Oak: "Lifer" from their just-released album The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs. We'll also be dropping other tracks from this well-crafted album into our mix. Check out the good reviews it has received from Pitchfork, The 405 and NPR Music.

Eels: "You Are The Shining Light" from the new album The Deconstruction. The album title states its unifying theme of stripping away pretense and false hopes to deal with life as it really is and ourselves as we really are. In this song, the message is that the real you can be a positive force. Check out this review from American Songwriter.

Alice Merton: "Lash Out," from her debut No Roots EP. The title track got overexposed before we had a chance to feature it, but we're grabbing this one while it's fresh.

Super Doppler: "I Can Breathe." We featured this band from Norfolk, Virginia, about a year ago when they were about to release their debut album (under a different name, Major and the Monbacks, which they changed about 10 seconds before the release). Their music, which they have called "retro psych-country rock n roll," has heavy overtones of mid-era Beatles and a good-times vibe.
Flora Cash: "You're Somebody Else." Cole Randall, from the U.S., and Shpresa Lleshaj, from Sweden, met via an online music site, became collaborators and then husband and wife. Their folky/dreamy/pop album Nothing Lasts Forever (And It's Fine), came out a year ago, but is getting more attention after a SXSW appearance last month. The opening lyric of this single caught our attention right off: "I saw the part of you that, only when you're older, you will see, too."

Sunday, April 1, 2018

New music from Courtney Barnett, Natalie Prass, Anderson East, Gang of Youths, Midnight Shine

Courtney Barnett calls out misogynists, of both the online and IRL varieties, in "Nameless, Faceless" from her forthcoming LP Tell Me How You Really Feel. She addresses internet trolls as pathetic head cases ("You sit alone at home in the darkness / With all the pent-up rage that you harness / I'm real sorry / 'Bout whatever happened to you), as well as the violence that rage can produce ("I wanna walk through the park in the dark ... I hold my keys between my fingers"). She quotes Margaret Atwood ("Men are scared that women will laugh at them ... Women are scared that men will kill them." All this in a three-minute grunge-pop song, in her usual pithy observational style. Kim Deal (Pixies, The Breeders) contributes background vocals.

Photo credit: Sergey Osipov
Also from Australia, originally, and just beginning to draw wide notice on the other side of the Pacific, is Gang of Youths. Although based in the U.S. since 2013, the band has remained best-known in its former homeland, where its most recent release, Go Farther in Lightness, topped the charts and won three ARIA awards (comparable to the Grammys or the Junos). Their arena-friendly rock, with frontman Dave Le'aupepe's literate lyrics and passionate singing, draws comparisons to the likes of U2 and Arcade Fire. The gang is now getting serious buzz from its recent U.S. appearances at SXSW and on late-night TV, and a packed show at New York's Bowery Ballroom. Although the album came out in August, we're betting it's as "new" to most of you as it is to us. We're putting the single "The Heart Is A Muscle" into our New Music bin and will drop more tracks into our big mix.

We return now to northern Ontario's Midnight Shine, whose version of Neil Young's "Heart of Gold" was featured in our New Music bin a little over a month ago. While the band benefited from borrowed interest by covering that classic song (and adding an Indigenous twist), it's deserving of more attention for its original, rootsy rock music. We're now featuring another single from their new High Road album, "Velocity," which expresses a longing to slow down in a fast-paced world.

We've been slow to warm up to Nashville singer Anderson East. His gravel-voiced blue-eyed soul can feel a little too perfect at times, more imitative than authentic. But it's clear his love of Southern musical traditions is genuine, and it's undeniable that he and producer Dave Cobb are damn good at crafting records. Case in point: "Girlfriend" is a really fun listen, with its amusing love-triangle lyrics -- and its booming riffs from a killer horn section.

Natalie Prass made a splash a few years ago with her debut album of orchestral pop songs -- and now she's making waves again by taking her music in a new direction. The first two singles from her next collection, The Future and the Past, draw from R&B and disco. She joins our big mix with "Sisters," which SPIN calls "a strongly neo-soul-informed feminist anthem ... complete with jazz-piano spats, scatting, and a chorus of backing singers echoing 'Keep your sisters close / You gotta keep your sisters close to ya.'"