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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.”

Friday, July 10, 2020

Good Times from The Suffers, plus The Jayhawks, Faded Paper Figures, Beach Riot, Rachel Beck

The Suffers: Take Me To The Good Times

The Houston-based band, featuring vocalist Kam Franklin, delivers what could be a theme song for everyone wishing for a post-pandemic, worry-free return to traveling, dining out, concert-going and other pleasures. "I just gotta get out most days you see / I like walking around it’s good for me," Franklin sings on this bouncy, horn-driven soundtrack for a celebratory strut through bustling city streets. It was written before lockdown but after the group was set back by personnel changes and the theft of a truckload of equipment. Franklin describes it as "a love letter to the road [and] a promise to get back to it." 

The Jayhawks: Little Victories

For their 11th album, XOXO, band members worked and lived together in a big, secluded Minnesota house. The result, says The Current, is that they "sound more like a band than ever. The mic gets passed around almost as often as it did back in the 60's and 70's when The Band made their classic albums." We previously featured the single "This Forgotten Town," and now we're adding "Little Victories," the lament of someone on the down-and-out, with vocal harmonies by guitarist Gary Louris, pianist Karen Grotberg and drummer Tim O'Reagan. 

Faded Paper Figures: Bones

Working together in one place is impractical for many bands under current conditions. But remote collaboration has been this indie-pop group's method of operation for years. Kael and Heather Alden met R. John Williams in California, where Kael was composing music for film and TV, Heather was studying medicine and Williams was getting his Ph.D. After they released an album in 2008, John moved east for a teaching position at Yale while Heather became a physician in California, but they continued on as a bi-coastal band. Their new EP, Kairos, is their eighth release. Our featured track showcases their mingling of voices, electronica and obscure lyrics: "A gang of kids and a gang of bones / turn your sidewalk curb to a wave of gold." 

Beach Riot: Wrong Impression

From the English seaside resort of Brighton comes this quartet dedicated to creating "hooky, loud, fuzz-laden pop tunes that make people lose their minds." We don't think this track will cause any harm to our listeners' brains - just give them a few minutes of bright, upbeat noise with a message of reassurance. "Imagine that you had the chance to go back in time to tell your younger self that you turn out alright," the band says about the song. "You’d do it, right? ... As we can’t go back in time, maybe take a moment. Next time you catch yourself in a reflection let yourself know it’s gonna be OK now."

Rachel Beck: Dancin'

The title suggests a happy dance tune, but the lyrics refer to society's failure to prevent or prepare for climate change. "We're dancin' on a grave ... Like Nero, play on, play on as flames get higher." The track is from the Prince Edward Island singer-songwriter's new EP, Stronger Than You Know, the follow-up to her self-titled 2018 debut. The Guardian calls the new release "a beautifully crafted electronic pop record with compelling rhythms, layers of piano and synthesizers and dreamy vocals that wash over you wave after wave."

Saturday, July 4, 2020

New releases from Michael Stipe, Elvis Costello, The Sea The Sea, Ray LaMontagne, Dizzy

Michael Stipe & Big Red Machine: No Time For Love Like Now

Big Red Machine, a collaboration between Aaron Dessner of The National and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, joins with the former R.E.M. frontman on this song that feels well suited to the moment. Dessner told Rolling Stone: “Michael wrote the lyrics last fall, but when the reality of the Covid-19 pandemic and social-distancing and self-isolation descended, they felt like they were written about this time all along and perhaps the message resonates especially now.” There's a line about "lockdown memories" that we're guessing was added later.

Elvis Costello: No Flag

His first release since 2018's Look Now with The Imposters finds Costello working alone at a studio in Helsinki. "I wanted to go somewhere nobody knew me. So, this is 'The Helsinki Sound,'" he says. The credits say he plays "mouth, drum, Fender Jazzmaster, Hammond organ and bass. Filled with nervous energy, the song lashes out at a world where nothing seems worthy of allegiance. "No time for this kind of love / No flag waving high above / No sign for the dark place that I live / No god for the damn that I don’t give.”

The Sea The Sea: A Thousand Years

This peaceful track arrives ahead of Stumbling Home, the third album from the Upstate New York-based duo of Chuck and Mira Costa. The couple said this song grew out of a songwriting retreat in the West Texas desert. "No cell service. No internet. It’s beautiful. It’s quiet. At night out there we often found ourselves under an unimaginable blanket of stars, just listening to the silence. Listening to nothing. It sounded thousands of years old. A clear and peaceful sound.” We've been playing another single, "Parachute," on The Birch Street Bistro, and look forward to hearing the rest of the LP later this summer. 

Ray LaMontagne: Misty Morning Rain

On his eighth album, Monovision, this New England-based singer-songwriter works largely alone, playing all the instruments. But he brings with him a cast of masters whose influences can be clearly heard. On this track, the steady strumming of the rhythm guitar, the raspy vocal and grounding percussion recall Moondance-era Van Morrison. AllMusic writes that LaMontagne's latest collection "revives the classic weathered troubadour vibe at the heart of his music," and its references to Morrison, Cat Stevens and even mellow Led Zeppelin "are there as cultural touchstones as much as specific influences, helping guide the listener through an album that feels as comforting as a hug from an old friend."

Dizzy: Sunflower

We previously featured "The Magician" from the upcoming LP The Sun and her Scorch, and now we're catching up with this upbeat number that was released a few months back. Lead singer Katie Munshaw calls it "a three and a half minute 'snap out of it!' to myself when I'm feeling low, unconfident or not myself." That's a tonic we're sure many listeners could use right now. On their new album, Munshaw and brothers Alex, Mackenzie and Charlie Spencer bring "a more kinetic energy into their sound through their lavish use of live instrumentation," the band says.