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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.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Birch Street Radio plays on in 2019

Here at Birch Street Radio, we're looking forward to bringing you more great music in 2019 - new and classic rock, alternative, pop, folk-rock and more. We've been doing it since April 2013 and continually improving our Marvelous Mix. 

Along the way, our program has moved several times from one internet-broadcasting platform to another. And it's likely we will have to make another change in the next week or so. 

TorontoCast, which has carried Birch Street Radio for the past year, tentatively plans to discontinue service to listeners in the United States in mid-January. We're preparing for that by setting up a separate stream for U.S. listeners. You can try it out by clicking the button labeled "Testing: new player for U.S." in the Listen Now box near the top of our website.

Unless there's a change in TorontoCast's plans, we will officially launch the new stream next week. Listening links for the U.S. will change, and listeners using certain internet-radio players will have to "re-tune" them to connect to the new stream. We'll do our best to make the transition as smooth as possible by providing up-to-date information and listening links here at birchstreetradio.com.

We're committed to continue bringing our Marvelous Mix to long-time listeners and new fans in 2019 and beyond. If you ever have trouble tuning in our "signal," remember that you can always find us here at birchstreetradio.com.