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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.”