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Saturday, March 28, 2020

Wide-ranging new sounds: Major Lazer feat. Marcus Mumford, plus The Airborne Toxic Event, Sarah Jarosz, R.O. Shapiro, Waxahatchee

Major Lazer: Lay Your Head On Me (feat. Marcus Mumford)

At the same time that people worldwide are being forced to stay apart because of a pandemic, people worldwide are also able to connect through modern technology.

One result: musical collaborations that cross boundaries of nations and genres - such as this improbable combination of American dance trio Major Lazer (Diplo, Walshy Fire, Ape Drums) and English folk-pop bandleader Marcus Mumford, with a songwriting assist by Danish pop star M0.

Described by Billboard as a "tropical-folk lullaby," it's a well-timed song of hope and reassurance: "This too shall pass / It won't always be the same," Mumford soothes. "It's okay it's alright / Someday we will be fine."

The Airborne Toxic Event: Come On Out

The California band formed by author/musician Mikel Jollett is preparing to release Hollywood Park, it's first LP in five years - and a companion to Jollett's book of the same name.

The book is "a memoir of a tumultuous life," beginning in a commune that morphed into an infamous and violent cult, the Church of Synanon. Jollett, his mother and brother eventually fled the cult, but he describes a childhood of poverty and trauma and how he found his way out.

This first single from the album recounts an early, fraught attempt to escape into the world on his own: "I’ll run away, run away / This is my town, this is my night / Heading off to the city tonight." Atwood Magazine calls it "a song as vulnerable and affecting as [the band's] very first releases eleven years ago."

Sarah Jarosz: Johnny

After winning a Grammy along with Sara Watkins and Aoife O’Donovan in the trio I’m With Her, Jarosz will release her fifth solo studio album, World On The Ground, in June. She describes the LP as an exploration of “the tension and inertia of small-town living, the push/pull between the desire for escape and the ease of staying put.” That's encapsulated in this first single, in which the title character has traveled the world (in the military, perhaps?) but now finds himself back home - and restless. He's sitting on his back porch pondering, "How could a boy from a little bay town / Grow up to be a man, fly the whole world round / And end back up on the same damn ground he started?"

R.O. Shapiro: St. Joan

Photo by Shelby Bohannon
A native of the East End of New York's Long Island, Raph Odell Shapiro calls himself "a lifelong performer with Shakespeare and rhythm tap dancing in his past and Americana music in his present." He lived for years in Austin, where he was a member of indie-folk trio Odell Fox, and recently relocated to Southern California. Like many musicians unable to tour in this time of pandemic, he has lately been streaming and posting videos from the home he shares with violinist/vocalist Lauren Tronick. This new single was produced at Austin's King Electric Recording and features soaring background vocals by Tronick, harmonizing with Shapiro's rough-edged voice. It's a song about interpersonal connections through music. (The opening verse about a flight attendant brings to mind Dawes' "From a Window Seat.")

Waxahatchee: Can't Do Much

The critical reaction to the latest release from Katie Crutchfield and her band is remarkable: "A vivid modern classic of folk and Americana" (Pitchfork); "The best album of the year so far" (The Guardian). The Alabama native and long-time member of Philadelphia's music scene, now making her home in Kansas City, shifts from alt-rock to a country/Americana sound on her new album, Saint Cloud. It suits the record's themes of recovering from substance abuse, rediscovering oneself and taking life as it comes. On this track, she sings of feeling uneasy and helpless about being in love - but accepting that it's real: "I love you that much anyhow / Can't do much about it now."

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Justin Saladino, Siobhan O'Brien, Monica Moser, Norah Jones, Graylinglake in our New Music bin

Justin Saladino Band: Take What You Need (Live)

Hailing from Montreal but with a Southern blues-rock sound, this six-piece band has just released JSB Live, recorded over two nights in front of an audience of fans at Quebec's largest recording facility, Piccolo Studios. It's the same method Magpie Salute used for its 2017 debut record - a great idea for a band that's built for live jamming - and the result is a joyful groove. A review at Canadian Beats of JSB's previous LP, 2018's A Fool's Heart, compared the group's playing to the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughn, Derek Trucks and Robert Cray. Of the new collection, Saladino says: "The tunes we selected are some of our favourites to perform live and we felt the live versions of these tunes deserved to be recorded. We're all proud of the result."

Siobhan O'Brien: I Stayed Too Long

We previously featured "The King's Fool" by this Irish musician now based in the U.S. O'Brien takes the craft of a lyrical singer-songwriter and gives it rock-band backing on You Can't Run Out of Love, her new album produced in Austin. This is the heaviest track on the LP, with electric guitar, pounding drums and rocking piano, along with some electronic touches on her vocals. Mixes well with: Melissa Etheridge, Joan Osborne, Wynonna Judd.

Monica Moser: Feeling For You

This is a "reimagining" of a track from the Nashville based singer-songwriter's 2018 album, Your Absence, A Closeness. The new single is accompanied by a video of dancer Natalie Beerman dramatically interpreting the song's concept of trying to feel, to connect with, a person who has been out of touch for a time. Moser says the video "plays with the concept of disorientation via traveling in and out of light & darkness, utilizing a blindfold, and ending with a reverse shot."

Norah Jones: I'm Alive

The first single from the upcoming LP Pick Me up Off The Floor finds Jones again collaborating with Jeff Tweedy, as she did on a couple of tracks on last year's Begin Again. Here, the Wilco frontman plays acoustic guitar, electric guitar and bass, while his son Spencer Tweedy plays brushed drums. Jones' smooth voice and her piano complete the laid-back, gentle sound - in counterpoint to dark lyrics about a woman striving to thrive in an angry world: "You feel your soul get hollowed out/While the world implodes, you just live without." Says Jones: "If there’s a darkness to this album, it’s not meant to be an impending sense of doom, it feels more like a human longing for connection. Some of the songs that are personal also apply to the larger issues we’re all facing. And some of the songs that are about very specific larger things also feel quite personal."

Graylinglake: Runaway

Michael Harrsjö is a former member of True Lies, an American-style-rock band from Malmo, Sweden. With his current project, Graylinglake, he released The Impossible Possible last fall, but it took a while to reach our ears. A review of this single at Alternative Fruit praised its "loud and sunny guitar backed up with a lively drum-beat. ... Thrusty rock vocals holler over the song-structure in a powerful point of sound. ... [It's] an exciting and care-free number. It's about running away, attaining freedom, and facing the world." Harrsjö on guitar, bass, vocal and keyboard is accompanied by Conny Städe on drums and percussion.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Psychedelic Furs return, plus new music from Grouplove, Marge, Shayla McDaniel, HAARM

The Psychedelic Furs: Don't Believe

What year is this? There's a new album from The Psychedelic Furs. Their most recent LP came out in 1991. But they're back, with Made of Rain set for release in early May. Based on this first single, Stereogum says the band sounds "like those 29 years didn't even happen... 'Don't Believe' comes right from the Furs’ wheelhouse: gloomy guitar swirls, sax wails, [Richard] Butler’s voice sounding like he hasn’t aged at all, a big desperate chorus." Given the state of the world today, jumping back 29 years doesn't sound like a bad idea.

Grouplove: Deleter

The Los Angeles indie-pop band's new album, Healer, starts with this loud, buoyant track that AllMusic calls "a blast ... grounded by a maniacal piano riff and a dissonant screech of guitars ... incredibly catchy." The record follows a turbulent period for the group led by the married duo of Hannah Hooper and Christian Zucconi -- Hooper underwent, and recovered from, brain surgery. "In order for us to get over that and get through it ... we just wanted to distract ourselves and write more music," Zucconi told ABC Radio. They then spent a week cranking out what Paste Magazine describes as "their loudest and most off-the-wall record yet."

Marge: Detached

This Montreal-based singer has been involved with music for years -- writing about artists in webzines, organizing concerts, and in recent years posting covers on her YouTube channel. Here we have her debut single and her first original composition, a collaboration with guitarist Mattias Eklundh, founder of Swedish rock band Freak Kitchen. Marge describes "Detached" as "about breaking free from shackles, looks and doubts ... To detach from what prevents us from realizing ourselves."

Shayla McDaniel: Definitive Unknowns

We've been looking forward to hearing more from this Tennessee-based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist since last summer's release of her debut EP, Both of My Hands. Fortunately, we didn't have to wait long. This brand-new single is another polished yet intimate song, with McDaniel's personal lyrics and distinctive vocals backed by a driving rhythm section, guitars and synths. It's a song about being unsettled, in a relationship and in the world. "The only thing we know for sure is that not everything can be known for sure," McDaniel says of the track's theme, "but the one thing you can control is yourself."

HAARM: Tell Me What You Want

Here's a tasty piece of alt-pop from a Liverpool trio that formed in 2016 and released its first EP in 2018. There followed "a short period of rest and regrouping for the band in the wake of the sad loss of a close personal friend ... alongside a series of changes in the members’ personal lives that have led to a desire to focus all of their energies on HAARM." Their music features a mix of male and female vocals, guitar, drums and synths. As you might guess from the title of this track, the topic is the age-old theme of poor communication in a relationship.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Our latest picks from Margaret Glaspy, Raincity, Pearl Jam, Daniel Pearson, The Banshees

Margaret Glaspy: Killing What Keeps Us Alive

This is one of two singles to emerge so far from the Brooklyn singer-songwriter's upcoming album Devotion. Where her 2016 album Emotions and Math and 2018 EP Born Yesterday showcased her guitar playing and sharp, sometimes harsh lyrics ("Life was better / Before we were together"), the new tracks have a wider sonic palette, including synths and digital vocal effects - as well as a more mellow attitude. Glaspy acknowledges the different tone: "It's about letting love in, even when you don’t know what will happen when you do." Our featured track alternates between an open-hearted love song ("I wanna light a spark with you / And start a fire in your heart") and a cryptic warning: "We keep living like we'll never die / And we keep killing what keeps us alive." Is that about a relationship, or the climate crisis?

Raincity: Crazy

The release this week of the video for "Crazy" introduced us to Raincity, a Vancouver-based funk-rock band. Originally formed as a jazz trio, they evolved into a five-piece group featuring Clare Twiddy's vocals and Kaylar Chan's saxophone, backed by Ryley Kirkpatrick on guitar, Ginger Chen on bass and Sheldon D'Eith on drums. They cite influences ranging from Amy Winehouse to Red Hot Chili Peppers. "'Crazy' is a song about betrayal and gaslighting," says Twiddy. “It talks about a relationship where the other person is hiding information from you and making you feel crazy for looking into it."

Pearl Jam: Superblood Wolfmoon

From Vancouver we dip down to Seattle for the latest track from Eddie Vedder & Co.'s Gigaton. Where the first single, "Dance of the Clairvoyants," had a new-wave vibe, this one blends a bit of punk-rock raggedness with heavy grunge. The title is said to be inspired by the nickname given to a January 2019 lunar eclipse, but the song has little to do with astronomy. "Superblood wolfmoon / Took her away too soon," Vedder sings, and seems to be describing regret at the end of a stormy, perhaps violent relationship.

Daniel Pearson: Brother

This English practitioner of Americana music brings a more rock-oriented sound to his latest release. “People tend to think of me as this quiet, sensitive singer-songwriter, but I got my start in rock and punk bands and have always loved loud guitar riffs and big drum sounds” Pearson says. About this song, he says, "lyrically, it’s kind of a call for some kind of unity, however hard that may seem in our current climate."

The Banshees: It's Alright

From Liverpool comes this indie-rock four-piece, a relatively new band led by veteran musicians. Singer-songwriter Vinny Pereira and session guitarist Paul Anthony Holligan met in summer 2018 and "decided to put their own stamp on what music from the North West of England should be about." They released their debut EP last year and are preparing their second, Tell Me Everything, which will feature this solid rocker.