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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.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Our latest picks: Josh Ritter, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Jerry Popiel, Sara Bareilles, N0V3L

Photo by David McClister
Josh Ritter's upcoming album is a collaboration with Jason Isbell's band, The 400 Unit. Judging by the first single, "Old Black Magic," it's an excellent combination of talents. The track is a hard-driving rocker that Rolling Stone says lands in "the sweet spot between the introspective lyricism of Ritter’s previous efforts and the swaggering Southern rock of the 400 Unit." Produced by Isbell and recorded in Nashville's RCA Studio A, the album is called Fever Breaks and is due next month.

Speaking of combined talents, the dozen members of Tedeschi Trucks Band have put together another excellent album, Signs. We previously featured a couple of singles that preceded the full release. Now we're adding "I'm Gonna Be There" to the New Music bin. NPR describes it as a love song "that simmers slowly and finds its tension in [Susan] Tedeschi's incredible vocal performance, the rich vocal harmonies, a smoldering string arrangement and [Derek] Trucks' ripping guitar solo." We'll be dropping other tracks from the album into our big mix as well.

Jerry Popiel is a singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from the Cleveland area who performs both as an acoustic guitarist/singer and as a member of several indie-rock bands - including two that we've featured, Vanishing Shores and The Chestertons. His new single "Michigan Street" evokes classic folk-rock along the lines of Gordon Lightfoot and Tom Paxton. We debuted it on last Sunday's episode of The Birch Street Bistro and now we're featuring it in the New Music bin.

The pop music of Sara Bareilles hasn't previously broken into our playlist, but her latest single, "Fire," caught our ear recently and has now worked its way into our New Music bin. It's from her forthcoming album Amidst the Chaos, produced by T Bone Burnett. The song is a farewell to a relationship that failed to generate much heat: "Someday I won't have to feel the cold / But I do now, so I'll know / What it feels like when I feel fire."
Genre-jumping as we always do, we turn now to N0V3L, whose sound draws on 70s New Wave, punk and post-punk. It's the work of a creative collective based in a house in Vancouver, where its members produce their own music, videos and clothing. We're picking up a track called "Natural," which puts us in the mood to pull out old Devo and Talking Heads albums. (In fact, we did just that when we gave this song a spin last Sunday on The Detour.)

Saturday, March 2, 2019

New music by Jane's Party, The Elephant Trees, Don't Fear the Natives, In the Valley Below, Happiness Junkies

Another batch of all-indie music - from five different countries! - fills our New Music bin this week. All are tracks that made their Birch Street Radio debut on our Sunday free-form show, The Detour, and earned their way into our rotation.

We previously added a couple of singles that Toronto alt-rockers Jane's Party released ahead of their new album, Casual Island. Now that the full LP is out, we're adding "Arrow" to our playlist. The track features what Canadian Beats describes as "bouncing base, kicking drums, upbeat layered vocals, and tight electric guitar."

Our regular listeners also know The Elephant Trees, an alt-rock trio from Manchester, U.K. Their latest single is an edgy synth-driven number called "4100." Lead singer Martha Phillips said “It’s different in style to our earlier music but I think that comes from a place of growth." She wrote the song, she said, "about the things we use to distract us from life.”

Jumping over to Donegal, Ireland, we catch up with a recent release from Don't Fear the Natives, a six-piece band built around the duo of singer Claire McDaid and guitarist/songwriter Denis Kelly. Their EP Stupid Heart includes various styles from rock to folk. We're featuring the title track, which lands somewhere in between, with a gently rolling melody threading through a low-fi rumble of drums and keyboards.

In The Valley Below's sophomore LP, The Pink Chateau, is due in April. It will include the previously released title track and "Desperate Dance." The California-based duo of Angela Gail and Jeffrey Jacob has just spun out another single, a slow-burning song of perseverance called "Rise."

Also in the "slowbeat" vein, we're picking up a track from Amsterdam's Happiness Junkies. The duo of vocalist/pianist El and guitarist Onno serves up what Indie Spoonful describes as "rock melancholia with intelligent lyrics that you can ease your mind into." From their recently released debut album, we're featuring "You Can Leave Your Light On."

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Introducing Birds of Bellwoods, Lucy Bell, Bailen & latest from Broken Social Scene, Juliana Hatfield

The Toronto musical collective and force of nature known as Broken Social Scene has followed up 2017's Hug of Thunder with an EP called Let's Try The After, Vol. 1, suggesting that there will be more to come soon. It's a disparate collection of songs and instrumentals, of which our current fave is "Boyfriends." Pitchfork says it "builds on Hug of Thunder’s skyscraping rock motifs as [Kevin Drew] effortlessly slides into the rousing chorus, 'Let’s get you out of here,' a torrent of electric guitar and weighty piano chords arriving perfectly on cue."

Lingering in Toronto, we pick up a track from Victoria, the debut full-length album by Birds of Bellwoods. Exclaim calls it the band's "coming-out party as one of Canada's emerging alternative outfits," adding that it "channels the vibrancy of Only By the Night-era Kings of Leon and combines it with the Lumineers' style of anthemic writing." Our pick for the new music bin is the energetically angsty "Let You Go."

Dropping down to Boston we catch up with the latest from Juliana Hatfield, Weird. As the title suggests, the theme of the album is the feeling of not fitting in, of being out of step with the world. We're featuring "Staying In," a song about retreating from a world where "they keep changing all the rules / and I don't know how to play these games." The refrain: "I'm staying in / My hair's not right / And if I go out / Somebody might take me for / a functioning human being."

We consider ourselves lucky to have been sent an advance copy of a new single by Lucy Bell, an emerging singer-songwriter from Downpatrick, County Down in Northern Ireland. Although just 18 years old, she already has a few years of performance experience, having won Belfast-based Panarts' Young Singer Songwriter of the Year award in 2017. She brings sharp writing skills and a polished delivery to "Lost On The Line."

New York City-based Bailen has broken into the AAA charts with "I Was Wrong," the first single from its upcoming debut album, Thrilled To Be Here. Fraternal twins Daniel and David Bailen and their sister Julia "craft melodies that sound more country than city, laced with dusty guitars and harmonies," says Stereogum. The band says the song "is about coming together and listening to the other side of an argument, hearing another perspective, and being able to say I was wrong.”

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Now in our New Music bin: I'm With Her, Mackenzie Shivers, The Raconteurs, Hembree, Wild Belle

Once again we've picked a wide variety of new music to feature this week:
I'm With Her, the Americana "supergroup" of singer-songwriter-musicians Aoife O'Donovan, Sarah Jarosz and Sara Watkins, follows up last year's album See You Around with a new single, "Call My Name."

From The Unkindness, the new album by New York singer-songwriter Mackenzie Shivers, we're featuring "Tears To Keep Me Warm."The Raconteurs, the occasional side project of Jack White, has re-emerged with a pair of new songs, their first in over a decade. We're adding "Now That You're Gone" to our New Music Bin.

Kansas City indie-rockers Hembree will release their debut full-length album, "House On Fire," in April. We're spinning the first single, "Culture." Lead vocalist Isaac Flynn says of the song: “These days we put so much emphasis on things that lack actual significance. Everything is urgent and I wanted to try to capture this urgency in a song and question what we prioritize."
Wild Belle, the brother-sister duo of Natalie and Elliott Bergman, is bringing out its third album of reggae/dance/pop, Everybody One Of A Kind, next month. We're picking up the first single, "Mockingbird."

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Our latest picks: Carsie Blanton, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Lost Leaders, Foals and The Interrupters

Faithful Birch Street Radio listeners know we're big supporters of New Orleans-based singer, songwriter, musician and mischief-maker Carsie Blanton. Her music doesn't stick to any particular genre. In fact, she says, "I love songs, but I hate genre. I think making music is like making love: if you only know one way to do it, you must not be very good at it." She makes sexy songs, sassy songs, serious songs and mixtures of those and other ingredients. We recently featured the title track of her upcoming album, Buck Up, an optimistic take on the current state of the world. Now we turn to a less sunny view: "American Kid," a song of concern for what the next generation will have to deal with.

The forthcoming album Signs looks to be another instant classic from the Tedeschi Trucks Band, based on what we've heard so far: "Hard Case," which we began playing a few weeks ago, and now joining our playlist, "They Don't Shine." Built around Susan Tedeschi's expressive vocals and Derek Trucks' guitar mastery, TTB is without question one of the best touring bands in the land. This album was recorded live on analog tape at Susan and Derek's home studio in Jacksonville, Fla. The result, says NPR: "There's such warmth to the playing, you can picture the band members standing in the studio — playing together and off of each other, blending rock and blues and soul, accompanied by Trucks' impassioned guitar work and Tedeschi's soulful vocals."

Lost Leaders, the on-and-off project of Peter Cole and Byron Isaacs, returns March 1 with a new album, Promises Promises. As the band describes it, the record "takes the permanent background noise of anxiety and pushes it through a large collection of vintage synthesizers, guitar pedals and tea soaked vocal chords." Now entering our New Music bin is the first single, "Extra-ordinary."

U.K. alt-rock quartet Foals is bringing out Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 1 next month, with Part 2 due in August. The first track to spin out, "Exits," is a haunting meditation on climate change and other modern dangers. Atwood Magazine says the track "feels like it’s set to a low simmer, drawing out as much electric tension as possible" in an expression of "existential claustrophobia."

To round out this week's picks, we jump back about six months to Fight the Good Fight, the breakout album by Los Angeles-based The Interrupters. We've been playing several of its tracks in our big mix, but one we'd overlooked, "Gave You Everything," has started climbing the radio charts lately, and we couldn't resist jumping on the bandwagon. Consisting of vocalist Aimee Allen and brothers Jesse, Justin and Kevin Bivona, this female-fronted punk-ska band brings fresh fire to the genre.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

New Florence + The Machine, Just a Jester, Only Yours, Blue Stones, Catfish & The Bottlemen

For various reasons we're pressed for time this week, so this blog post is short on words - but we have our regular weekly complement of entries to our New Music bin, and of course, it's the music that counts!

Florence Welch is not someone you'd associate with the word "Moderation" - and that's the point of the new single from Florence + The Machine. "Want me to love you in moderation / do I look moderate to you? ... Well who do you think you're talking to?"

The U.K. singer-songwriter who goes by Just a Jester returns with his laid-back, lo-fi sound on a new single, "Heartbeat."

Only Yours is a four-piece from Toronto led by songwriter Lowell Sostomi. Their first LP, Overrun, was just released, and we're adding the lead track, "Doubts."

We're dipping back into Black Holes, the recent debut LP from another Toronto indie act, The Blue Stones, for a solid rocker called "Be My Fire."

And continuing in a rock vein, we're picking up the latest single from Catfish & The Bottlemen, "Longshot." It's the first single to come out ahead of the U.K. band's third album, The Balance, due April 26.

We'd like to know how you listen to Birch Street Radio: On one of the players on this website? On TuneIn or iTunes? or SimpleRadio? On smart speakers? (Try "Alexa, play Birch Street Radio on TuneIn.") Please let us know what works best - and what doesn't work - for you. And - whatever app or device you use - thanks for listening!

Saturday, January 26, 2019

New sounds from Vampire Weekend, Citizen Cope, The Magic Es, Still Corners and Metric

Photo: Variety
It's always interesting to hear a band try out new variations on their sound - and so it is with the new single from Vampire Weekend, "Harmony Hall." It's an early taste of an upcoming album called Father of the Bride, their first in six years. Starting simple with Ezra Koenig's guitar and vocal, the track goes off in multiple directions with barrelhouse piano, tambourine and various other percussion, a backing chorus, a guitar riff that sounds like it wandered in from a Grateful Dead concert, and more. As a review on Philly Voice puts it, "It’s a wild ride, and it sounds nothing like the Vampire Weekend of old, but it’s absolutely a ride worth taking."

Also back from a break of several years is Citizen Cope, who has a new album coming out in March. The lead single, "Justice," was described by NPR as "a classic Cope song. It swaggers with a head-nodding groove and contains a yearning and soulful message of optimism and positivity." Cope, a.k.a. Clarence Greenwood, has said that society's concept of justice is more like revenge or payback. "It ain't about justice" he sings "when it's not about the next step."

The sharp divisions in society are the theme of "Splinters," a new single from The Magic Es. We've featured this band from Norwich, U.K., before and we're happy to be among the first to bring you their latest track, set for release next month. The trio of drummer Stuart Catchpole, bassist Jasper Stainthorpe and guitarist/vocalist Pete Thompson formed in 2014 to create "original rock 'n' roll reminiscent of a time when guitar pop dominated the charts." Their sophomore album, Dead Star, is due later this year.

Still Corners is the dream-pop project of producer Greg Hughes and vocalist Tessa Murray, formerly based in London but lately in Woodstock, N.Y. The duo traveled to Austin to write and record their fourth album,Slow Air, a title they say was inspired by the Texas heat. It was released last summer, but only recently reached our ears. Better late than never, we're picking up "Black Lagoon," which backs its swirling sound with a propulsive double-time beat.

A driving beat also backs up "Risk," from the most recent release by the veteran Toronto-based band Metric, Art of Doubt. The quick pace matches the lyric's sense of moving too fast, perhaps in a relationship : "Started slow / Started to lose control / The more we accelerate."

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Latest picks: Dean Maywood, The Decemberists, Switchfoot, Valley and Sunflower Bean

Irish singer-songwriter Dean Maywood brought his new single, "Jane," to our Sunday show The Birch Street Bistro last week, and it captivated it us with its combination of romance and melancholy. Maywood, who plans to release his debut EP this spring, writes "narratives of the everyman, stories we all know." Citing artists like Neil Young and John Prine as his heroes, Maywood describes himself as a "country / Americana" artist -- which, considering that American folk music has Celtic roots, is a case of cultural influences turning full-circle.

There's hardly a band or singer who doesn't have a song about life on the road, but The Decemberists give the theme a twist in "Traveling On," from a new EP of the same name. As Rolling Stone aptly puts it, lead singer Colin Meloy "seems to be imagining a weary indie-rock band’s tour schedule in fantastical, historically haywire terms," with references to lifeboats, holy rollers and "the new dauphin in Duluth." The sound is cheerful folk-rock but the refrain suggests the feeling of being caught in a loop: "We're traveling on / Sold for a song / We're traveling on / And it won't be long / 'Til we're traveling on."

"Native Tongue," the title track of a new album by San Diego alt-rockers Switchfoot, combines the spiritual uplift of a U2 song with the insistent, pounding sound of Imagine Dragons. "Love's your language, love's your native tongue," songwriter and vocalist Jon Foreman preaches to a beat that will rock arenas, before the song shifts into a quieter mode for a coda in which he unironically declares that he "wants the world to sing" with love.

We're dipping back into the new EP by Toronto alt-pop band Valley, Maybe: Side A, to pull out "There's Still A Light In The House." It's a breezy keyboards-and-drums-driven number whose stream-of-consciousness lyrics suggests the giddy uncertainty of a new relationship. "Cause you found me there / With your new cut hair / Is it New York? Or Heaven? / I can't think twice now."

Sunflower Bean lays down "a dare, a threat and a beckoning" in "Come For Me" from the New York band's new EP, King of the Dudes. “This song was inspired by inner strength, power and sexual freedom,” the band says in a press release. “In 2018 there is no time to waste and no time for shame. This song is a declaration of that." Frontwoman Julia Cumming channels the likes of Benatar and Jett as she shout/sings, "Do you really want to come for me? Do you really want to waste my time? If you do then do it right."

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Latest from Tedeschi Trucks Band, Joe Jackson, Lonely Avenue, Frances Cone, Secret Treehouse

As big fans of Tedeschi Trucks Band and long-time Joe Jackson enthusiasts, we're glad to have new music from both this week. Joining them in our New Music Bin: the latest from a California indie band we first featured a couple of years ago; another track from a Nashville duo's new release; and the debut of a "pop orchestra" from Norway. Variety!

Tedeschi Trucks Band's Let Me Get By was one of our absolute favorite albums of 2016, so we're really looking forward to their upcoming release, Signs. We're jumping right on the first single, "Hard Case," which NPR called "an upbeat, shuffling, instant classic. "It's a fun song for us to play," Susan Tedeschi says, "And like so many other songs on the album, is a great showcase for the band." She and husband Derek Trucks have an all-time-great traveling band (seen above at New York's Beacon Theater last October), and we're not sure how they found time between tours to record. The full release is due in mid-February.

Joe Jackson is about to release his 20th studio album, 40 years after he made his debut with Look Sharp! Jackson's literate-punk style is intact on Fool, judging by the songs released so far. Our featured pick, "Friend Better," echoes the sardonic view of love behind classics like "Happy Loving Couples" and "Fools In Love" from the 1979 record. "If you were to use your head, / Then you would just forget her. / Listen what the wise man said: / Lover good, friend better."

Next we turn to Lonely Avenue, an indie quartet from Bakersfield, Calif., that cites influences ranging from Merle Haggard through the Allman Brothers and Tom Petty to Wilco. Their songs often come with heart-felt, personal lyrics. Lead singer Jon Ranger describes their latest single, "Wrong To Assume," as "basically an apology to someone for taking advantage of their strength, and realizing that we can’t just 'want' to make a change, there must be action in order to better ourselves."

A few weeks ago, we introduced ourselves and our listeners to Frances Cone, the duo of Christina Cone and Andy Doherty. We've been spinning "Failure" from their new album, Late Riser, and now we're featuring the opening track, "Wide Awake." Despite its title, the song has a languid, dreamy atmosphere. But the lyric suggests awakening to the realization that a relationship isn't working: "You call me, you call me, you call me a fool / And I don't know why I was asking you to."

And we've just been introduced to an alternative pop/rock band from Bergen, Norway, called Secret Treehouse. This five-member "pop orchestra" has put out several singles in the past couple of years, and just released its debut album, The Big Rewind. We're featuring the lead single, "Fear of Frogs." "It's about the fear of holding someone you love back," says guitarist and songwriter Sveinung Bukve. "And the feeling of just wanting to run away from it all, coz you're afraid you'll end up just doing damage."

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Fresh-picked music by Miss Emily, WKNDR, Jared & The Mill, The Wild Reeds and The Beths

Our first picks for the New Music bin in this new year are all "indie" releases - which we're happy to say make up a big portion of our ever-growing library. We have two groups that we've featured before and three that are new to our mix.

Among the new entries to our playlist is Miss Emily, who hails from Kingston, Ontario, and has been making music for some 15 years, with live performances across Canada and in the U.S. and U.K. Her shows are described as "foot-stomping, heart-wrenching adventures in rhythm, blues, jazz and rock-and- roll." On her latest album, In Between, Emily Fennell is joined by The Tragically Hip's Gord Sinclair as producer/co-writer/bass player and bandmate Rob Baker as lead guitarist/co-writer. The record was originally released in late 2017 in limited distribution in her home area and has been "bubbling up" since then. It finally reached our ears when Miss Emily recently put out a video for "Hold Back the River" - a gospel-influenced number that would mix well with Amy Helm or Rhiannon Giddens. We're making that our featured pick, but will be playing other tracks from this genre-jumping album as well.

Next we head south to Richmond, Va., where we find a quartet called WKNDR that blends guitars, flute, ukulele and mandolin into a musical style it calls "alternafolkrock." Since we specialize in alternative-and-classic-and-indie-rock-and-folk-and-more, it's a natural fit. Their new single is "Bridges," which the band describes "as a relatable story of the thought process when a relationship is broken and you’re figuring out the next steps." WKNDR cites The Lumineers and The Head And The Heart as influences, and that modern-indie-folk style infuses this number, which sounds like it should be coming from the stage of a summer music festival.

The five-piece band called Jared & The Mill describes itself as "five best friends from Arizona" whose musical tastes range from Bob Dylan and Simon & Garfunkel to Van Halen and Kendrick Lamar. Their latest single, "Soul In Mind," is the first to spin out from an upcoming album called This Story Is No Longer Available. It's a song of introspection while on the road far from loved ones, and of wanting to live up to their expectations: "Just split me up /
Split me up in two / and keep the better side /
I'll try to be that guy."

Turning to bands that we've featured before: The Wild Reeds have a new album on the way, called Cheers. The Los Angeles-based indie-folk quintet features co-lead singers and songwriters Kinsey Lee, Mackenzie Howe and Sharon Silva. The first single, "Lose My Mind," is a song by Lee "about friendship, family, and my best friend. When I am at my highest and lowest, he’s always been the one to remind me who I am and who I want to be." She says she wrote and rewrote the song over three years, then worked on it with the band "over and over in different ways, with different feels," to come up with the finished version. "This is the most satisfied I have ever felt with a song that I have written."

And from New Zealand we have a new single from The Beths - the title track of the indie-rock group's debut album, Future Me Hates Me. Pitchfork called the album a "really impressive" debut - "hook-filled songs filled with energy and attitude, written with depth and played masterfully." And Paste named The Beths its Best New Band of 2018. They're about to embark on a world tour, starting in Ireland and the UK, bouncing around Europe and then hitting Canada and the USA in February and March.