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Saturday, September 19, 2020

Black Pumas, Joan Osborne, Semisonic, ZZ Ward and introducing Blue Stragglers

Black Pumas: I'm Ready

Jackie Lee Young Photography
The debut album by songwriter/vocalist Eric Burton and producer/multi-instrumentalist Adrian Quesada was released in mid-2019 to critical acclaim, but it wasn't until the duo was nominated for a new-artist Grammy later that year that it began to gain a wide audience. The single "Colors" reached the top of the AAA charts in January, prompting the release of another single, "Fire" -- and now, a "Deluxe" re-issue of the album with three unreleased songs plus alternate mixes and some covers. Our pick for the New Music bin is one of the new originals.

Joan Osborne: That Was A Lie

On this track from her new album, Trouble and Strife, Osborne targets official disinformation (although the lyrics could apply to any kind of liar). Osborne explains: "I get so enraged watching these polished, camera-ready mouthpieces for our government just straight-up lying to us. And journalists seem unable use the word 'lie' ... I think it’s important not to sanitize them, to call them what they are. People in power are abusing the public trust ... and I believe we need to call them on it in no uncertain terms."

Semisonic: You're Not Alone

Dan Wilson, John Munson and Jacob Slichter reunite on the new EP You're Not Alone, their first studio release since 2001. "The collection sounds as timeless musically as it does right-on-time lyrically," writes the Star-Tribune newspaper in their home state of Minnesota. "Not only do the title track and several other songs evoke some desperately needed unity and comfort, so does the warmth of singer/guitarist Wilson’s voice."

ZZ Ward: Giant

This is the latest in a series of singles that could presage a third album from the Pennsylvania-born, LA-based singer and multi-instrumentalist. Her music is often described as a blend of blues and hip-hop. “This song came from feeling so close to someone that their pain felt like mine, watching them get hurt over and over felt so real," Ward says. "This is a reminder for my friend and to anyone who needs to hear it, that you can always find the Giant inside when you feel small.”

Blue Stragglers: Forever And A Day

Bringing a powerful dose of garage rock to our mix is this track from the self-titled, debut EP by a band from the UK's Sussex region. Lee Martin (vocals, guitar), Ali Waite (bass) and Andy Head (drums) "bonded via a love of bands such as The Raconteurs, PJ Harvey, Supergrass, Demob Happy, Beck, Grandaddy and Jane's Addiction," according to their bio. They describe their sound as "fuzzed-up, hook-laden, grooved-out alt-rock." As they formed the band, they converted an empty building into rehearsal space and now run it as a non-profit for area musicians. Fun fact: Google "blue stragglers" and you'll learn about a class of star observed in old, dense stellar systems such as globular clusters.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

New Springsteen + Vanishing Shores, Of Monsters and Men, Gracie and Rachel, Laura Marling

Bruce Springsteen: Letter To You

By a quirk of timing, amid a pandemic that has forced many bands to collaborate remotely comes an album recorded by a band working in close quarters - presumably many months ago. Springsteen reunited with his E Street Band at his home base in New Jersey and recorded “live in the studio, in a way we’ve never done before, and with no overdubs. We made the album in only five days, and it turned out to be one of the greatest recording experiences I’ve ever had.” Due Oct. 23, Letter to You has nine new songs and fresh versions of three that Springsteen wrote and demoed in the early 70s but didn't release. NPR says: "The song is in the classic E Street Band style: layered guitars, swirling organ, chiming piano and crashing drums." From Rolling Stone: "The song’s sentiment comes through in his voice and in the way the E Street Band effortlessly plays the track’s rootsy guitar and piano lines and swinging rhythms." 

Vanishing Shores: Fix Me

This indie group from Cleveland is one of the many bands worldwide whose planned releases have been delayed by the pandemic. While they wait to finish their Kickstarter-financed next album, Kevin Bianchi last month released an EP, Soundtrack for Survival (Bande-son pour la survie), consisting of polished-up demos. They have also issued two singles from the upcoming LP, and "Fix Me" is one of those, featuring backing vocals by Katie Egan. The song, says Bianchi, "is about realizing that relationships are not about changing another person. The idea that we can or should change a person to be more like us or to think more like us is a false idea that only causes us to miss true and lasting beauty." 

Of Monsters and Men: Visitor

This single is the first taste of what the Icelandic band says is “a body of work coming at the top of 2021 in celebration of the group’s tenth anniversary together.” The energetic track is "a song about disconnection and being on the fringe of change, seeing everything you once knew disappear, and finding yourself in the role of the visitor," says guitarist/vocalist Nanna Brynd√≠s Hilmarsd√≥ttir. It closes with a repeated, spooky refrain: "My mother said I was always afraid of the dark / But I'm not, I don't mind / Having a ghost in my bed." We've been liking this band more and more as its music evolves, particularly with last years' critically acclaimed LP Fever Dream. 

Gracie and Rachel: Underneath

This Brooklyn-based duo of California natives is about to release Hello Weakness, You Make Me Strong. The "alchemy" between free-spirited keyboardist Gracie Coates and classically trained violinist Rachel Ruggles "has never been more potent or realized than on their upcoming sophomore record," with more layers of electronics and beats, according to a statement from their new label, Ani DiFranco’s Righteous Babe Records.  "The songs ask us to look directly into the eye of the broken mirror reflection in front of us,” the duo says. “The music is less interested in fixing what’s fragmented than it is in putting value on imperfections for all they’re worth.” 

Laura Marling: Strange Girl

The songs on the British singer-songwriter's seventh album, Song for our Daughter, are written to an imaginary child, Marling has said, describing "trauma and an enduring quest to understand what it is to be a woman in this society" and offering "all the confidences and affirmations I found so difficult to provide myself.” This song can be heard as a mother's message of gentle guidance - but on another level, it could be a message of support and encouragement to oneself: "I love you my strange girl / My lonely girl, my angry girl, my brave." 

Saturday, September 5, 2020

New Music picks: Smashing Pumpkins, Bastile, Shayla McDaniel, Hannah Georgas, Nothing But Thieves

Smashing Pumpkins: CYR

Dystopic nightmare seems to be the prevailing theme of 2020, and this is Billy Corgan's contribution. He describes the song as “one-soul-against-the-world sort of stuff, set against a backdrop of shifting loyalties and sped-up time." The single is a forerunner to a yet-untitled album that will be the band's second release since Corgan got back together with founding Pumpkins James Iha and Jimmy Chamberlin, along with longtime guitarist Jeff Schroeder, in 2018. (CYR is supposedly pronounced "seer," although neither word appears in the lyrics.) 

Bastille: What You Gonna Do???

The South London quartet gets an assist from Blur's Graham Coxon on this guitar-and-drum-heavy rocker that marks a stylistic shift. "Gone are the polished production and synth-laden pop choruses, replaced instead with a punk sensibility," writes Atwood Magazine. The lyrics deal with the constant distraction and potential menace of social media: "You got control, got my attention / Make me tap and scroll ...You got us listening, so what you gonna do? / Now what you gonna do with it?" Following last year's Doom Days LP, frontman Dan Smith says this single is part of "a new beginning” for Bastille. “It’s about completely tearing up our process, being spontaneous and starting again."

Shayla McDaniel: Worth Living

The new single from this Tennessee songwriter and musician counsels against despair, whether brought on by current events or private anxieties. "Please don’t believe the lies / Lodged inside of your mind / Your life is worth living / Please don’t leave me behind." The song's release is timed to World Suicide Prevention Day (Sept. 10) and U.S. National Suicide Prevention Week (Sept. 6-12). McDaniel, a multi-instrumentalist who self-produced this track, brings keen observation and an open-hearted warmth to her songs, delivered in a style that blends pop, R&B and jazz. 

Hannah Georgas: Dreams

The fourth album from this Juno-nominated artist, All That Emotion, is "a subdued, low-contrast set that leans into timbres like piano, muffled drums, humming keyboards, and rich guitar tones as accompaniment for Georgas' yearning, soft-spoken reflections," writes AllMusic. We previously featured the single "That Emotion," and with the release of the full LP, we're picking up one of the more upbeat tracks, with "an insistent, sixteenth-note bass line and spacy, layered textures." An Ontario native who moved to British Columbia for university and began her career there, Georgas is now based in Toronto. The album was produced by The National's Aaron Dessner at his upstate New York studio.

Nothing But Thieves: Real Love Song

We introduced this song on The Detour and now move it to the New Music bin. It strikes our ear as Killers-esque. The U.K. five-piece band will release its third full-length album, Moral Panic, this fall. The group describes this track as "an attempt to write a song about love from a self-aware perspective. It’s about the darker side of love – the painful, unrequited kind. It’s love lost or love never gained."

Saturday, August 29, 2020

New Old 97s, plus fresh picks from Jason Isbell, Land of Talk, Larkin Poe, Subshine

Old 97s: The Dropouts

It's impressive when a band has been playing together for a quarter century. The alt-country quartet of Rhett Miller, Ken Bethea, Murray Hammond and Philip Peeples has just released its 12th album, called, um, Twelfth. American Songwriter says this opening track is "classic Old 97s every step of the way, yet pulses with the energy of a band making their debut, with unstoppable musical swagger and Miller’s effortless lyrical eloquence on full display. The song honors society’s underdogs, to whom Miller still feels a kinship despite the band’s success." 

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit: Running With Our Eyes Closed

The influence of Jackson Browne seems strong on this track from Reunions. The verses follow a melody similar to "Lives in the Balance." And while the lyrics don't deal with social or political issues (as other tracks on the album do), they would fit well with many of Browne's songs describing the highs and lows of relationships. "And we can never go back and be strangers / All our secrets are mixed and distilled / But you've taught me to temper my anger / And you've learned it's alright to be still." 

Land of Talk: Footnotes

Eavesdrop with us on another of the Indistinct Conversations in the new LP from Montreal-based Elizabeth Powell and her band. “The music itself is the very sound of people connecting," Powell says. "Lush and layered with swirling synths and dreamy guitar noise, driving drums – I envision us all sweatily, joyfully performing together on stage. Lyrically, though, this song has revealed itself to be about loneliness ... and the wish-hope-struggle to reach out and connect with others. The chorus promise, ‘I’ll be there night after night,’ is at once comforting and threatening. Is it a loved one talking, or the loneliness itself?” 

Larkin Poe: Every Bird That Flies

We previously featured "Holy Ghost Fire" from Self Made Man, the latest release by this Nashville-based rock-and-roll duo. Sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell bring a dark, ominous atmosphere to this track. The refrain "Suddenly you're free as / Every bird that flies" sounds liberating - but not when it's preceded by lines like "When all you got is nothing / And you're waiting 'round to die." 

Subshine: Living Like It's Real

Music from this solo project of Norway's Ole Gunnar Gundersen, former lead vocalist of a band called Lorraine, has been in our playlist since last year. We began playing this track a few months ago on The Detour, and enjoyed the '80s flashbacks so much that we decided to move it into the New Music bin. The opening of this song strongly reminds us of ... some record from the late 80s or early 90s that we've been racking our brains to identify. Contact us if you can help make the connection. 

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Cat Dail, Bright Eyes, The Killers, Alison Solo, Sylvan Esso in our New Music Bin

Cat Dail: Red Pill

"Want to get away / But there's really no place to hide." Like many songs this year, this one expresses distress over current social and political trends - in this case with a call to see through lies and recognize reality. New York singer-songwriter-musician Cat Dail has assembled a band of top-rank players to wrap the message in a glossy package that sounds like a theme song for an action movie. And indeed, it's slated to appear in an indie film by the same name, written and directed by Tonya Pinkins, who also contributed to the lyrics.

Bright Eyes: Mariana Trench

A sense of anxiety permeates this track from Down in the Weeds Where the World Once Was. It's the first album in nine years from Conor Oberst, Nathaniel Walcott and Mike Mogis under the Bright Eyes banner. They're joined by Chili Pepper bassist Flea and drummer Jon Theodore from Queens of the Stone Age on this track, named after the deepest underwater canyon on earth. "New-wave synths and an upper-cut of horns ... help get its message of solemn satire across," writes Variety. Sample lyric: "Look out for the plainclothes / Look out for what the wiretap knows / Look out on the ever-widening money trail and where it goes."

The Killers: Running Towards a Place

The Las Vegas rockers' sixth album, Imploding the Mirage, sees frontman Brandon Flowers and drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr. working without founding guitarist Dave Keuning and with bassist Mark Stoermer in a reduced role, according to AllMusic, which nonetheless calls the result "a masterful distillation" of the sound they've crafted since 2004. "The typical Killers trademarks are all here -- big anthems and even bigger emotions." From the chorus: "And if we're running towards a place / Where we'll walk as one / Will the hardness of this life / Be overcome?

Alison Solo: Last One Standing

We previously featured "Chiron" from Plutonian, the recent release by this modern practitioner of bluesy classic rock. "The British bands from the 60s and 70s and the bands that emerged during the time of the grunge movement influenced me the most," Vancouver-based Solo told music blog The Ripple Effect. Solo accompanies herself on guitar and bass, with James Last on the drums and Tony Edwards adding keys on some numbers. This track has drawn comparisons to The Black Crowes.   

Sylvan Esso: Ferris Wheel

The North Carolina-based duo of Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn seek to brighten a gloomy summer with their new album, Free Love. “It’s a record about being increasingly terrified of the world around you and looking inward to remember all the times when loving other people seemed so easy, so that you can find your way back to that place,” the couple said. Of this track, Stereogum writes: "Meath gracefully spins melodies over hiccuping digital production, building to a nimble and extremely catchy chorus punctuated by sampled children’s chants and the occasional beat drop."

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Latest from Bruce Hornsby, Kathleen Edwards, Lianne La Havas, Pretenders, The Trusted

Bruce Hornsby: Bright Star Cast (f. Jamila Woods, Vernon Reid)

We're always on the lookout (listen-out?) for music that breaks out of genre lanes, and Hornsby's recent works do just that, blending flavors of jazz, pop, Americana, electronica - and in this case, R&B. On this track from the new LP Non-Secure Connection, he's joined by Chicago-based singer-poet-activist Jamila Woods. The song was inspired in part by the James Weldon Johnson poem "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing," and more broadly by the current reawakening of the civil-rights movement. Hornsby notes it's "the seventh song of my career that deals with the issue of race in America, a deep, seemingly intractable problem that never seems to be solved in any satisfactory way—until, hopefully, now.” The track also features Living Colour's Vernon Reid on guitar.

Kathleen Edwards: Hard On Everyone

Returning to music after taking a break and opening a coffee shop, this Ottawa-based singer-songwriter has just released her first album in eight years, Total Freedom. We've previously featured the single "Options Open" and will be adding more tracks to our mix. The theme of taking control of your life runs through many of the songs, including this one about breaking away from a difficult person: "You're so hard on me / Why would I let you be?" The guitars and simple, repetitive percussion are reminiscent of the War On Drugs' "Under the Pressure" at a quicker pace.

Lianne La Havas: Can't Fight

We're late in picking up this swinging, soulful song from the new self-titled album by the U.K. singer-songwriter. It's her third release, coming about five years after her Grammy-nominated Blood. "Can’t Fight’ is that feeling of you know it’s not good, but you can’t not do it,” La Havas says of this track. “People say if you’re having a hard time in a relationship, just leave. It’s so easy to say, but it’s so much more complicated than that. Because there’s two of you, and neither of you are perfect.” Mixes well with: Sade, Norah Jones, Lake Street Dive, Jessie Ware. 

Pretenders: Didn't Want to Be This Lonely

Chrissie Hynde and her touring band go old-school rock 'n' roll on this quick three-minute track. Co-written like the rest of the album with lead guitarist James Walbourne, it features Bo Diddly-style licks and sounds like it should be coming over an AM car radio in 1963. AllMusic says of the new LP: "Much of the liveliness of Hate for Sale is due to [producer Stephen] Street capturing the Pretenders as a straight-up rock & roll band, adding a little flair to the mix but being sure there's enough color and groove so it's not monochromatic. It helps that the songs are good, too."

The Trusted: The Innocent

This emerging indie-rock band hails from the English coastal-resort town of Southend-on-Sea. "Jangly guitars, upbeat drums and rich vocals emit a potent and feel-good sound," writes Total Entertainment. The song evokes the dreams and innocence of youth - which can't have been very long ago for these guys. Band member Tom Cunningham says: “I don’t think we are aiming for a certain kind of ‘sound.’ For us, if it sounds and feels good, we follow it. Popular music culture is so layered, it’s really hard to stay in the same lane. With ‘The Innocent,’ we were kind of going for that cinematic indie thing.”

Saturday, August 8, 2020

New from Thompson Springs, The Light Workers, Maya Maya, Snow Patrol, Run River North

Thompson Springs: Slightly Sexy

Photo: Kayla Thornton
This Chicago indie-folk-rock band has just released its first full-length album, Undertones, produced in Nashville by Wilco's Pat Sansone. We're featuring the opening track, which leans farther toward alt-rock than most of the collection, starting off with a bass-drum punch and fuzzy electric guitar. "You're an unsolved mystery / Constantly challenging me," sings frontman Matt Smith. "You're outlandish / and perfectly cool." Smith is backed by Jeff Sullivan on guitar, David Thrift on bass and drummer Jake Bicknase, described by Smith as the band's "musical director - I get the broad ideas and then he goes into the theory." We'll sprinkle some of the album's more folk-ish songs into our mix as well.

The Light Workers: Peppermint

The Albuquerque, New Mexico-based duo of Anne Luna and Evan Woodward have just released their self-titled debut EP. They take turns on lead vocals and harmonies on its five tracks, which feature Luna on upright bass and cello, Woodward on guitars and John Bartlit on percussion. Luna is also part of The Hard Road Trio, and wrote this track with another member of that band, Steve Smith. The lyric laments a friend's self-imposed alienation: "Alone in her room every night / Drinkin' the gloom when it's quiet / Welcome the dark as a key to your art / Grudges to guard your soft heart." A review at quotes Luna saying that in writing the song, "I thought of times I have felt so stuck in life, wondering how I got there, and of times I’ve witnessed others creating their own cages." 

Maya Maya: Lifeguard

We're pleased to feature another debut indie release this week, by this pop-rock band from Glagow, Scotland. The four-track EP is called Cutting Teeth, from the expression for just beginning to learn a skill. The title sells them short: Lyricist-vocalist Clara Robb, composer-guitarist Tony Millar, bassist Scott Anstruther and drummer Robbie Houston already have the sound of an accomplished band, with solid musicianship and inventive songwriting. They describe "Lifeguard" as "a song for the people who use those closest to them as a lifebuoy without realising, or maybe even caring, that they're pulling the other person underwater with them." 

Snow Patrol: Reaching Out To You

The upcoming EP The Fireside Sessions is credited to "Snow Patrol and the Saturday Songwriters." While in pandemic lockdown, frontman Gary Lightbody conducted a series of Instagram livestreams and invited fans to collaborate with him. "They would suggest chords and lyrics and I would put them all together and add in a few of my own where appropriate - but my unwritten rule was that there would be lyrics from a Saturday Songwriter in each line of the song.” In this track, the resulting lyrics are cryptic yet expressive of a longing to return to personal connection: "Know the last time that I saw you / Is not the last page of the book."

Run River North: Pretty Lies

After a few releases on Nettwerk, this California band is going indie again with an album coming this fall. This first single is a collaboration with members of L.A. trio Sir Sly. A band statement says: "Songwriting sessions between bands can become complicated tinder dates with simultaneous multiple partners, but we're happy that everyone swiped right and turned a pretty lie into one of our most creative and fun songs."

Saturday, August 1, 2020

New releases from Crack the Sky, The Crayon Set, Land of Talk, Grouplove, The Go-Gos

Crack the Sky: Tribes

This veteran prog-rock band from West Virginia via Baltimore returns with its instrumental virtuosity and its current-events awareness both in top form. This is the lead single and title track to an album expected early next year. Songwriter and lead singer John Palumbo describes the track as "an observation of the sharp divide in our country. Everyone has a tribe. Everyone believes their tribe is the one with all the answers, when the real answer is unity.” 

The Crayon Set: Don't Step Back Too Far

This Dublin alternative-pop band has a new album, Downer Disco, that was supposed to be out by now, but like many releases, has been postponed until autumn due to the pandemic. A couple of singles have spun out, and we're now catching up with a track that was released earlier this year but just reached our ears. The band says this song "touches on how it feels to be low, to have lost a sense of yourself and your place in the world.” Key lines: "Don't step back too far / you might forget who you are ... Please come here to me / I won't forget who you can be." 

Land of Talk: A/B Futures

The Montreal-based band headed by songwriter-vocalist-guitarist-keyboardist Elizabeth Powell returned from a seven-year hiatus with 2017's Life After Youth and now follows up with Indistinct Conversations. Backed by bassist Christopher McCarron and Mark “Bucky” Wheaton on drums and keys, Powell delivers sometimes stream-of-consciousness lyrics that suggest stories but don't quite tell them. Our featured track is one of the more upbeat and straightforward. "I'm your future lover," Powell sings over propulsive guitar, drums and synths. "If the spirit won't come to me, I got to it."

Grouplove: Inside Out

We dip back into the few-months-old LP Healer to pull out this bouncy track. The band just released a video for it, in which spouses and co-vocalists Hannah Hooper and Christian Zucconi run through largely deserted Los Angeles streets, occasionally meeting small groups of mask-wearing residents. The song's message that real change comes from within is "given added punch by a bass-heavy, post-punk groove," writes AllAccess.

The Go-Gos: Club Zero

In conjunction with a Showtime documentary about the band, The Go-Go's recorded and released their first new track in 19 years. Rolling Stone reports the song was created via email exchanges between band members, and self-produced from tracks laid down at studios in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Guitarist-vocalist Jane Wiedlin told the magazine the title was inspired by an '80s Hollywood after-hours joint called the Zero Zero Club. “I thought about how cool that title was. I just felt that the point of that song was the perfect thing for the Go-Go’s to say in 2020. We’re not putting up with this whole boys’ club anymore. ... It felt like what people needed to hear right now.”

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Fresh tracks from Dawes + My Morning Jacket + Joan Osborne + Sarah Harmer + Blindlove

Dawes: Who Do You Think You're Talking To?

The seventh studio album from Taylor Goldsmith and his band, Good Luck with Whatever, is due in October. In a statement about the project, Goldsmith indicated he gave his bandmates more say in shaping the tunes: "The other guys all have chops that I don’t have and never will." This single fits naturally into the Dawes oeuvre of 80s-California-style rock, influenced by the likes of Jackson Browne and the Eagles. Lyrically, it's another Goldsmith snapshot of a relationship shadowed by past relationships: "Who, who do you think you're talkin' to? / Is it the man that was here before me? / The one that wrecked you hard and walked ... It's clear, that's somethin' you're still workin' through." 

My Morning Jacket: Climbing The Ladder

This "new" music actually dates to 2014, when Jim James and his group spent time writing and recording at a mountaintop studio near California's Muir Woods. They recorded enough songs for a double or triple album, but decided to release a 10-track LP, 2015's The Waterfall. Five years later, they have rolled out The Waterfall II. Consequence of Sound calls it "a moody record, one whose bruised and dreamy soul-searching serves as the duskier bookend to its predecessor’s sun-dappled roaming." Our featured track is one of the most energetic in the collection. 

Joan Osborne: Take It Any Way I Can Get It

"We need songs that can energize us and lift us up in this current moment," the singer-songwriter says of this first single from her upcoming LP, Trouble and Strife. "If we can’t stay connected to that inner joy, we can’t help those who need us or even help ourselves.” Osborne self-produced this, her 10th album, recording with a large live band. She says the rest of the songs follow a similar theme of holding onto optimism, in order to survive “the crazy, chaotic times we’re living in.” (Fun fact: Osborne and Jim James were both born in Kentucky.)

Sarah Harmer: Take Me Out

We featured the single "New Low" last November, ahead of the release of this Ontario singer-songwriter's fifth album. The LP came out in February, so we're late getting back to it, but we're now featuring this upbeat song that Play MPE calls "a resilient, irrepressible burst of light and melody." The album is the first from Harmer in ten years. CBC writes that Harmer's "sense of story and melody [are] a set of timeless threads that allow her 2000 debut album, You Were Here, to pour seamlessly into her first album in a decade, Are You Gone. As for this song, Harmer told CBC she "had the arrangement and the melody and a few of those lines for 15 years probably."

Blindlove: I Wanna Be Okay

The debut single by this alternative-rock band from Salt Lake City is one of those songs that seems perfectly timed for this moment of fear and uncertainty. Taken as a whole, the lyric seems to be the lament of a brokenhearted person brooding in his room - as in the Simon & Garfunkel classic "I Am A Rock," but with more desperation than stoicism. We're guessing it was written before the pandemic, but its opening lines have taken on new resonance: "I'm scared to go out today / I'm anchored in doubt / Been pacing a line from the sink to the couch." The repeated, title line, "I Wanna Be Okay," sums up how many of us feel right now.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Our latest new-music picks: Benjamin Gibbard, Future Islands, Finnian, The Beths, Goldmyth

Benjamin Gibbard: Proxima B

The dream of escaping Earth and starting over on another planet is a recurring theme in art, and it seems especially apt today. Gibbard recorded this in isolation at his home in the state of Washington amid the coronavirus pandemic. It was written earlier, inspired by the even larger-scale crisis of climate change. "The ocean's rising and we're all gonna drown / But there's a place where you and I can go / We can start this whole mess all over ... We won't make the same mistakes twice."

Future Islands: For Sure

In its first release in three years, this Baltimore band sticks to its successful synth-rock sound. Rolling Stone sums it up well: "The track boasts a quintessential Future Islands blend of thumping drums, thick synths and a gooey bass line that anchors a swooning guitar. Frontman Samuel Herring delivers another characteristically mighty vocal performance, with Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner providing back-up on the chorus: 'I will never keep you from an open door / I know, you know / That’s how much I feel in everything you are / You know, I know.'"

Finnian: Fly

We fly to Ireland, where this Dundalk-based singer-songwriter is releasing a debut album that sounds like the accomplished work of a veteran musician. A couple of tracks have been in our playlist since they were released as singles last year, and they have a laid-back, easy sound that characterizes the first half of the LP. But in the latter part of Under the Influence (maybe the flip side of the vinyl?) Finnian stretches out into rockier, rootsier territory. This track features a rollicking barroom piano and a rough-edged vocal: "I'm gonna say goodbye / Wind of change gonna teach me to fly."

The Beths: Out of Sight

The success of their 2018 debut album, Future Me Hates Me, propelled this New Zealand quartet from playing clubs in the Auckland indie scene to international touring. Their new sophomore release, Jump Rope Gazers, "was heavily inspired by trying to maintain friendships from thousands of miles away," according to AllMusic. "The resulting set of songs takes on a yearning, more reflective point of view that makes room for slower tempos." While this collection is a bit less frenetic and more polished that the first, it maintains the band's blend of catchy pop hooks and leader Elizabeth Stokes' casual-sounding-yet-deep lyrics. "Though I know way down that I / Am out of mind, when out of sight," she sings on this track, "I keep a flame burning inside / If you need to bum a light."

Goldmyth: My Mistake

Music from this Utah singer-songwriter has been in our mix since the 2017 release of her debut EP, Faded Dream. Her primary instrument, the harp, is given the lead role on this dreamy new single. "The result is fully consuming, showing a melancholic pop sound with ample depth," writes indie music blog Obscure Sound. Of the lyrics, Goldmyth says: “In the past, I used to take on every crack in a relationship as my own personal mistake. ... This song is the breath of fresh air that surrounded me when I rolled down my window and drove into a new future.”