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Saturday, May 18, 2019

New sounds from Lizzie No, Southern Avenue, The Heavy, The National & introducing Low Life Lolas

Our regular listeners are familiar with singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Lizzie No. Her music has been part of our mix since the release of her 2017 debut LP, Hard Won. Her second collection, Vanity, is due in August, and she's just released a single, "Narcissus." On this track, No moves a bit beyond the folk/country sounds of her first record, adding a fuller, somewhat rock-ier sound behind very personal, self-reflecting lyrics. "I see myself / As a great pretender / in grown-ups clothing / Up on tiptoe by the water's edge," she sings, then turns to lessons learned in love: “I believed some things were meant to happen / Now I’m not so sure / 'Cause I keep on breaking my own heart." Rolling Stone named this a Song You Need To Know, writing that "it’s ultimately [No's] uncanny knack for songwriterly perspective that grounds the song."

We weren't familiar with Memphis-based soul-rock band Southern Avenue until we heard a track from their just-released second album, Keep On. From we learn that this group came together through a collaboration among "Israeli psych-blues guitarist Ori Naftaly, gospel singer Tierinii Jackson and drummer Tikyra Jackson (Tierinii’s sister)." However that happened, the result is "fiery, guitar-led soul rock, with punchy horns, hard-shuffling beats." Our featured track, Whiskey Love," is about a woman breaking out of a cycle of abuse. Tierinii Jackson describes it as "a song of hope and strength for all those out there struggling.”

Southern soul, rock and funk also come together in the unlikely surroundings of Bath, England, through the music of The Heavy. This band has been keeping on for a dozen years or so and just released it's fifth album, Sons. All Music describes the sound very well: "Featuring the swaggering, throaty vocals of Kelvin Swaby, the Heavy are akin to '70s British trad-rock bands like Faces or Humble Pie, but only if they'd been fronted by James Brown." We're featuring the single "Better As One," which drives home a message of unity: "I know that we can do better / I know we're better as one / I know we can do better / Without evil on our tongue."

Jumping from one style of music to another, as we always do, we return to the Toronto indie-music scene and pick up a track from the debut album by Low Life Lolas. This quartet, formed a year or so ago, features songwriter and lead vocalist Reneé Parr along with drummer Melissa Chiasson, guitarist Alex MacLeod and bassist Jose Guillen. Parr began writing in her hometown of Thunder Bay, Ontario, and developed a style described as "a blend of delicate folk, dissonance, and sophisticated lyrics." The band backs it with a big, solid indie-rock sound. Our pick for the New Music bin is "Darling I Won't Ask."

Veering off in yet another direction: We've heard bits and pieces of The National's eighth album, I Am Easy to Find, and now the full hour-plus record has been released. Much has been written about the album, the accompanying short film, and the choice by Matt Berninger to collaborate with several female artists. We're now featuring the title track, a quiet ballad on which Matt is joined by British musician Kate Stables (a.k.a. This Is The Kit). We always find Berninger's lyrics annoyingly cryptic, but in this gentle duet, they go down smoothly.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

The latest from Hemming, Kasador, Valley, Foals and Of Monsters and Men join our big mix

It's been a little while since we've heard new music from Hemming, a singer-songwriter who's part of a vibrant indie-rock scene in Philadelphia. After a debut album in 2015 and some singles and side projects since, she's just released a four-song EP, Waiting/Wasting. Hemming, a.k.a. Candice Martello, describes her music simply as "songs about feelings," and they often explore the darker places of the heart. On our featured track, "Nest To Me," a syncopated percussion figure is gradually joined by instrumental layers as the lyric turns to a chant of longing for someone to be next to/nesting with "what's left of me."

There's an anxious undercurrent as well to "Brood & Bloom," the new single by Kasador, an indie-rock quartet based in Kingston, Ontario. It's the title track from an upcoming full-length release, following a 2016 EP and a couple of singles. The band says the album was "written through tough times" and that "the message in this [song] is clear: out of something bad comes something good, if you choose to make it happen."

From Kingston we cruise down the 401 to Toronto to catch the latest from Valley, "Park Bench." It has a sunny and breezy sound, but the disjointed lyric suggests disorientation in the modern age. “It touches on social, generational, and political ideas that we felt were relevant to us at the time,” says Valley's drummer, Karah. The track will be on Maybe: Side B, the second installment of an album the band is releasing in stages; Side A came out about six months ago and we're told they're not stopping at B. 

The new collection from Foals, Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 1, has been declared by NME to be the band's "best album to date." We previously featured the single "Exits," and now we're picking up "In Degrees," which Atwood Magazine calls "a real high point of the album" with "a disco feel to it thanks to an incredibly funky bass line and thumping lower register ... This is super refreshing to hear, and it works perfectly in this eclectic album."

Moving farther from the folk-pop sound of their 2011 debut, Of Monsters and Men crank up the guitar rock on their latest release, "Alligator," the first single from an upcoming album called Fever Dream. The Icelandic band’s co-vocalist, Nanna Bryndis Hilmarsdóttir, takes the lead on this track, with a lyric that never mentions the titular reptile, but speaks of releasing inner feelings: "I am open and I am restless / Let me feel it out, let it all come out."

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Introducing Orwells 84; Lenny Bull's debut; plus new Bleached, Black Keys and Bruce Hornsby

From Dundalk in Ireland, the sound of Orwell's 84 reached our ears recently - and grabbed hold of them with the band's new single, "Cailín." This six-piece outfit came together and refined its sound gradually over the past few years, releasing just a couple of singles along the way. With this new release, they've stirred many flavors of music into a joyous brew that's hard to categorize but fascinating to hear. It's folk-rock with Celtic flavor, neo-psychedelica meets trad, guitar-bass-drums mixed with violin, cello - and a bouzouki solo. We'll be very interested to see and hear where this band's musical journey takes it next.

The former frontwoman of Toronto roots-rock band Torero just released her debut EP as a solo artist. Lenny Bull has assembled a tight four-piece rock'n'roll band for this project and delivers songs she describes as reminders "to be bold, strong and unapologetic." We're hearing a bit of a Pretenders vibe in songs like "Somebody's Girl," our pick for the New Music bin.

The upcoming album from Bleached, the pop-punk duo of sisters Jennifer and Jessie Clavin, is called Don't You Think You've Had Enough? It's described as their first LP written from the perspective of sobriety, after facing down addiction. The lead single, "Hard to Kill," celebrates that turn-around: "After all the damage that we've done / Turns out I'm very hard to kill."

Now we go off in another direction with the latest from Bruce Hornsby. If you know him mostly for his 80s singles you might be surprised by the avant-garde jazz, progressive and classical sounds that mix together in his new album, Absolute Zero. We're featuring "Voyager One," inspired by the NASA probe that's now some 13.5 billion miles away. NPR calls this number "pleasantly frantic, propelled by a tight funk-fusion groove and Hornsby's playfully spry vamping on the piano."

We round out the New Music bin this week with the latest piece of blues-rock from The Black Keys. "Eagle Birds" is the second single, following Lo-Hi, to spin out ahead of the band's ninth LP, Let's Rock. The two songs, and the album title, make it pretty clear that - after the Danger Mouse-produced Turn Blue and a five-year gap filled with side projects - Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney are back to playing straightforward guitar rock.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

New releases from Bruce Springsteen, Josh Ritter, Andrea Nardello, Collective Soul and 311

The new single from Bruce Springsteen is in our New Music bin this week, because of course it is. Mixing new music and classics is what we do, and when one of the top artists of classic rock brings out solid new material, it fits right into our big playlist. Springsteen describes his forthcoming album, Western Stars, as a set of "solo recordings featuring character-driven songs and sweeping, cinematic orchestral arrangements." The lead character in the first single, "Hello Sunshine," is trying to shake off his gloom: "You can get a little too fond of the blues." NPR describes it as occupying "the same melancholy space" as some of the songs of Jimmy Webb, John Hartford, Kris Kristofferson and the like.

In a somewhat similar vein of American folk-rock comes the new collection from Josh Ritter, Fever Breaks. On his 10th album, Ritter teams with Jason Isbell as producer and Isbell's The 400 Unit as backing band. We previously featured the rollicking "Old Black Magic," and now we're picking up the wistful "I Still Love You (Now and Then)." It joins a large catalog of songs about old flames that still smolder - an ever-growing playlist that includes Ritter's own "A Certain Light."

We recently had the chance to catch a live show by Andrea Nardello, whose singing, songwriting and energy put us in mind of Shawn Colvin and Melissa Etheridge. (We later learned that others have made those same comparisons.) From her latest EP, Human, we're featuring the title track - a song about reaching out for the help that everyone needs at times: "Hold me now / I'm human, I'm broken / Come now / Be my warrior." Starting with a simple guitar accompaniment, the track gradually adds cello, violin, piano accents and layered vocals, creating a sound that NPR has called "both intimate and expansive."

Along with those three songs on the mellow side, we're adding a couple of upbeat tracks from veteran bands:

Collective Soul is marking its 25th anniversary as a band with a new album due in June. The title, Blood, is a reference to family ties. Singer-guitarist E Roland says the LP "is an accumulation of all the different styles we’ve used over the years." The lead single is "Right as Rain" - a phrase Roland remembers his grandmother using and that the song uses to express hope for better days ahead.

Also coming in June is Voyager, the 13th album in the nearly three-decade career of 311. Vocalist-guitarist Nick Hexum says the lead single, "Good Feeling," is influenced by the pounding rhythms of Jamaican dancehalls along with Paul Simon's world-beat records. He calls the song "a three-minute party jam meant to feel like a vacation."

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Our latest picks: Scott Krokoff, Melissa Etheridge, Jenn Grant, Secret Treehouse, The Strumbellas

New York indie singer-songwriter Scott Krokoff has been a fixture in our mix since his second album came out a few years back. Krokoff is a practicing attorney who, as his bio says, "is adamant that one should never put a shelf life on his or her dreams." His new single, "Cubicle," carries a similar message: Don't become so locked-in to your work that you can't break out and follow your passion. We're glad to hear Krokoff is continuing to follow his.

Although her biggest hits came early in her now-three-decades-plus career, Melissa Etheridge keeps on making powerful, guitar-driven rock. She continues to follow her passion on her new release, The Medicine Show. On several tracks, Etheridge confronts current topics including the political climate, the opioid crisis and gun violence. For repeated listening in our New Music bin, however, we're featuring the simpler looking-to-cut-loose rocker, "Wild And Lonely."

Jenn Grant will release Love, Inevitable in about a month, and we're picking right up on the first single, "Raven." The Halifax singer-songwriter has a voice that's gentle on the surface but infused with forceful energy. Grant has said the song "came from a place of trying to find my own power when I was crowded with self-doubt. For me, it’s about taking a step into the unknown and learning to trust yourself."

We're returning to The Big Rewind, the recent debut album by Norway's Secret Treehouse, to add the title track to our New Music bin. The band says this alt-rock-pop anthem is "about looking (rewinding) back, telling a person (and others) that didn't believe in you that they were wrong and that things has been rough but worked out in the end."
And speaking of anthemic alt-rock-pop, we round out this week's New Music picks with "I'll Wait," the lead single from The Strumbella's newly released fourth album, Rattlesnake. For this album, Simon Ward and the crew teamed up with producer Tim Pagnotta, whose credits include Walk the Moon, Neon Trees and Elle King, while staying close to home by recording it in Toronto and Kingston, Ontario.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

New in our mix: Silversun Pickups, Hailey Knox, Justin Townes Earle, Stunflower, Day & Dream

Photo: Claire Vogel
Silversun Pickups are back, preparing to release their first album since 2015. The band worked with producer Butch Vig on Widow's Weeds, due in June. Bassist Nikki Monninger says working with Vig was "very collaborative," drawing out what each band member could add the the music. The lead single, "It Doesn't Matter Why," has an urgent, relentless pace reminiscent of "Panic Switch," but here the Pickups have a fuller, multi-layered sound. Brian Aubert's singing is sharp with a cynical edge as the lyric seems to mock the cult of celebrity: "You think about us all the time / Don't / Because it doesn't matter why we're known / We're just known."

One young singer-songwriter who's quickly becoming "known" is Hailey Knox. The 20-year-old has graduated in the past few years from posting solo videos on YouTube to signing with a label, putting out an EP and now an 11-song collection, Hardwired Mixtape. It's called a mixtape, Knox says, “because it’s slightly all over the place.” Indeed, she tries on various styles ranging from highly produced pop songs to the quiet, introspective title track, "Hardwired," now in our New Music bin.

The refrain of Justin Townes Earle's "Frightened By The Sound" is "don't be frightened by the sound," but the lyric suggests there's good reason to fear. Over acoustic guitar and pedal steel, Earle sings of a building thunderstorm and, while urging calm, doesn't downplay the danger: "Last time rain / Come down like this / So much was lost / We'll never know the true cost." If the storm is a metaphor for these troubled times, the message seems to be not to cower and hide but to help one another through it: "There's no way of knowing / What the damage will be / We can't just live on hope / We'll never get out alone."

Also joining our big mix this week are a couple of songs by indie artists that we debuted recently on The Detour, our Sunday free-form show (check out past episodes on our Mixcloud page).

London-based Stunflower is a new project by veteran musicians Thomas Thomas (guitars, vocals, loops) and Devaki Thomas (vocals, drums, percussion). They formed the "psychedelic rock, funk and reggae band" with bassist Alex Barrett and recently released an album called Turnaround. We're featuring "A Million Years," a song Thomas wrote years ago for Devaki and which they say the have "long wanted to perform as a tribute to all the women in their lives, and others who have not walked an easy path."

Day & Dream is a self-described "indie rock/shoegaze/dream pop band" based in Asheville, North Carolina. They combine dreamy, breathy vocals with solid rock backing on "Night Light," from their debut LP with the cheery title With Every Breath You Die. As they tell it, longtime musicians Abby Amaya and Peter Frizzante met in New York, fell in love and began their collaboration, drawing on "admiration for Britpop, 90s grunge, fuzzy guitars and melodic pop structures." They're joined by drummer Mike Fasano and bassist Lowell Hobbs.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

New music by Wyland, Only Yours, The Lumineers, Son Volt and introducing Ace of Wands

Photo: Kelsey Ayres
The next album from New Jersey indie band Wyland is still several months away, but a second single just emerged. "Dark Days" applies the band's driving alt-rock sound to a lyric that suggests a struggle between hope and despair: "What if there's still time to get it right," Ryan Sloan sings hopefully, but then: "What if the stars hold no answers, only light for lost souls of the night?" The band, with Pat Viso on guitar, Zach Calidonna on bass, Ariella Mastroianni on keyboard and backing vocals and Chris Luna providing the powerful drumming, builds to cathartic swells on the choruses.

Photo: Andrew Wyatt
Somewhat similar strains of anxiety are heard in "Overrun," the title track from the new album by Toronto's Only Yours. "I try, try to keep my fear inside / I can get by," Lowell Sostomi sings in a voice that sounds like a livelier version of The National's Matt Berninger. Overrun is an impressive debut for the Toronto-based quartet led by Sostomi, the singer-songwriter formerly of The Great Bloomers.

The latest release from The Lumineers continues its run of women's names as song titles (Cleopatra, Ophelia, Angela). The upbeat, almost rollicking sound of "Gloria" belies its subject: singer Wesley Schultz says it's “about love between an addict and her family.” It's the first single ahead of the band's third album, III, expected in September. (The track list also includes a song named Donna.)

Son Volt's "Devil May Care" joins the catalog of songs by musicians about being musicians. The lyric strings together phrases about the experience of setting up and playing shows: "Hit the high hat like a low hat / Open up a wall of sound." It's the breeziest track on Son Volt's latest album, Union, which also includes several explicitly political songs in which Jay Farrar takes on topics such as income inequality, unequal justice and mistreatment of immigrants.

As usual, we include a wide range of styles in our New Music bin and throughout our big mix. We turn now to another Toronto band, Ace of Wands, featuring singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist Lee Rose along with Anna Mernieks and drummer Jody Brummel. Their style has been called gothic folk-rock, blending soaring vocals, violin, synth-bass and guitar into music the band says is "inspired by the supernatural, elemental forces and physical sensation." From their debut album Lioness, we're picking up the title track, which Rose described in an interview with Music Musings and Such as "probably our loudest and most aggressive song; heavily inspired by Sleater-Kinney - one of my favourite bands of all time."

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Modest Mouse, Middle Kids, Sail By Summer, Blue October and The Good Water in our New Music Bin

Modest Mouse is back and sounding angry. The band's first release since 2015 is a single called "Poison the Well." It's two and a half minutes of high-energy rock with Isaac Brock railing against oppressive systems and profiteers: "Whoever prints the money says where you spend it / and just like magic it's right back in their pockets."

It's good to hear new music from Australia's Middle Kids, who have an EP called New Songs for Old Problems coming out in May as the follow-up to last year's debut LP, Lost Friends. The first single to emerge is "Real Thing" - which singer Hannah Joy describes as nothing less than a song about the “lifelong quest for meaning. ... It’s the quiet, persistent voice in the stillness that constantly checks to see if you truly think you’ve found the thing you’re looking for." If that sounds grandiose, the track itself is a very down-to-earth modern-rock number.

A quick spin of the globe takes us to Scandinavia, where we discover Sail By Summer, consisting of Norwegian singer-songwriter William Hut and Danish keyboardist Jens Kristian. We're picking up "Casual Drive," which is billed as one of the more rock-leaning songs from their upcoming debut album of "melancholic indie" music. The track is more driving than casual, with a propulsive drumbeat behind layered synths and reverb-heavy guitar.

Veteran Texas alt-rockers Blue October, in the midst of a tour now headed for the Eastern U.S., have broken out another single from their most recent release, I Hope You're Happy. "King" is a romantic ballad that Justin Furstenfeld sings with an desperate-sounding passion: "Hold me close, closer than ever before / Just love me like you won't let go."

For pure fun we turn to The Good Water and their latest single, "Colours." This band from Birmingham in the U.K. recaptures the sound of 60s psychedelic rock. Even this description of the track by frontman Rob Clements takes us back to the flower-power days: "A trip through a lucid dream, with kaleidoscope patterns floating down from the sky, and a perpetual feeling of elation." For those of us of a certain age, the opening line, "Bend me, break me, tear me apart." immediately recalls The American Breed's "Bend Me, Shape Me."

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Danses macabres from Johnny Marr & Foster the People - plus Aurora, Subshine, Bob Mould

There's a strain of fatalism in a couple of our new releases this week--

Johnny Marr's "Armatopia" - the title mashes Armageddon and Utopia - takes a jaundiced view of humanity's chances of saving its environment, with references to a "hissing, fizzing atmosphere" and the "kiss of history" over a bouncy, danceable beat. "So let's dance to the sound of our time running out / And watch the smoke on the breeze of the rising seas." The single comes as Marr launches a North American tour supporting Call the Comet, the album he released last year.

Foster the People also seem to be dancing to oblivion on their new single, "Style," which opens with "We're born to die so I'm gonna fight for how I wanna live" and merrily rolls along to the refrain "If you're gonna take me out / take me out in style." Frontman Mark Foster says of the song's theme, "When we face the question of our own mortality, we are free to live our lives without fear.” There's no word on whether the band has a new album in the works.

Perhaps Norway's Aurora is simply giving up on the world of humans. She's a beast in a concrete jungle on her new single, "Animal." In the music video, she actually breaks from a cage and runs through city streets before ending up at a hedonistic rave. "Let me become an animal / 'Cause when you are an animal / You lose control."

Would we put two Norwegian artists in our New Music bin in the same week? Why not? Subshine is the new project of singer-songwriter Ole Gunnar Gundersen, formerly of a band called Lorraine. Subshine's new single "Easy" is our first exposure to his music. It's an upbeat pop number that mixes gauzy synths with a propulsive beat in a style slightly reminiscent of War On Drugs. The debut album Easy Window is due April 26.

There's not a synth to be heard on Bob Mould's "What Do You Want Me To Do" - just the crash of guitars and drums and the Husker Du alumnus' half-shouted vocal. It's a frustrated lover's lament packaged in two and a half minutes of flat-out rock from Mould's latest LP, Sunshine Rock.   

Saturday, March 16, 2019

New Sounds from The Head & The Heart, Karen O & Danger Mouse, Local Natives, Bear's Den and the Black Keys

The Head and the Heart take their folk-rock sound in a more pop direction on "Missed Connection," the first song to emerge from an upcoming album called Living Mirage. “A lot of the beats on that song are quicker," says drummer Tyler Williams, "and there are high hats that were never in our music before,” along with touches of synths and other effects. The group's fourth album follows the amicable departure of co-founder Josiah Johnson, the return of keyboardist Kenny Hensley and the addition of Matt Gervais, husband of guitarist/vocalist Charity Rose Thielen.

Photo by Eliot Lee Hazel
In another case of an artist trying a different style, Karen O & Danger Mouse is a collaboration between the lead singer of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the ubiquitous pop producer. Their new album Lux Prima leads off with a nine-minute cinematic suite, followed by a collection of songs that allow O to expand her range far beyond YYY's garage-punk. As NME writes, "Her iconic shrieks and yells are replaced by whispers and croons, while Danger Mouse – aka Brian Burton – wraps everything in futuristic, cosmic production." Our pick for the New Music bin is a slinky slow-disco number called "Turn the Light."

Los Angeles-based Local Natives are preparing to release their fourth album, Violet Street. We're picking up the advance single "When Am I Gonna Lose You." Singer-guitarist Taylor Rice, who got married last year, says the song is about being in an "incredible relationship" and fearing that it will somehow go wrong. "This song is me diving into murky emotions of anxiety and doubt in the middle of love and joy.”

British duo Bear's Den also has an album poised for release next month - their third, titled So That You Might Hear Me. The first track to spin out, "Laurel Wreath," is described by vocalist Andrew Davie as "a song about vulnerability and courage and the need for connection that runs through the whole album.”

After five years busying themselves with other projects, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney are back as The Black Keys. They pick up right where they left off with their bluesy garage-rock on a single called "Lo/Hi." There's no word yet on whether an album will follow, but the Keys have announced plans for a fall tour along with Modest Mouse.