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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.

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."