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Saturday, October 31, 2020

Crowded House return + Wild Tibetan Monks debut + latest from Julien Baker, Eels, Blue Stragglers

Crowded House: Whatever You Want

Neill Finn and his band are back with their first new music in a decade. On this track, Finn and fellow founding member Nick Seymour are joined by producer/keyboardist Mitchell Froom and Neil’s sons: guitarist Liam Finn and drummer Elroy Finn. It's unclear whether they have an album in the works, but they're planning a New Zealand tour in March. This upbeat track, with the refrain "Some people will tell you whatever you want," could just be about flattery in general - but one verse suggests something darker: "Should be shouting from the mountain / At their top of their voice / 'This is not right; this man is a fake' / But they will follow him down / To the edge of the cliff / And if he tells them to jump / They will jump right in." 

Wild Tibetan Monks: Cartoons

We've just been introduced to this Irish indie band and its debut single. The trio formed in college in 2011, and moved in 2018 to Perth, Australia. They toured around Western Australia, playing covers, working on their own music and developing a following. This track was recorded at Rada Studios in Perth before their recent return to Dublin. (Did their travels ever take them to Tibet? Or a monastery? Unknown.) Bassist/vocalist Sean says the song deals with "the pressures of modern life ... We wanted to create a feeling, not just through the lyrics, of longing to go back to a simpler time, of sitting with someone and watching cartoons.” Australian music site The AU Review picked it as a Track of the Day last week. 

Julien Baker: Faith Healer

Photo by Alysse Gafkjen
Due early next year, Little Oblivions is the third album by this Memphis-based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. New York Magazine's entertainment site Vulture says it features the artist's "fullest sound yet, with Baker producing the album and playing most of the instruments - which now include drums, bass, and synthesizers, along with the usual guitar and piano." Of this track, Baker says it began as "a very literal examination of addiction" and grew to touch on other forms of escapism. "I (and so many other people) are willing to believe whomever - a political pundit, a preacher, a drug dealer, an energy healer - when they promise healing."

Eels: Are We Alright Again

Known for dark, brooding lyrics, Mark Oliver Everett, a.k.a. E, takes a more circumspect, even optimistic approach on Earth to Dora, the 13th album from his LA-based band. Although structured as a song cycle about a love affair that breaks down, "the album is full of songs that conjure a feeling of internal hope," as a review at Louder than War puts it. "Their soft winding melodies creep inside you as E’s voice soothes and croons." Everett says the album's songs came about before the pandemic - except for this one, which he says "is kind of a quarantine daydream I desperately needed to have."

Blue Stragglers: She

We previously featured "Forever and a Day" from these Sussex, UK-based purveyors of "fuzzed-up, hook-laden grooved-out alt-rock," and now we're dipping back into their self-titled debut album. The lyric, with the refrain "She never makes mistakes," is the amusingly relatable lament of a man admiring a woman who's out of his league: "She's always there / Just waitin' for the right time / Waitin' for a perfect / Man, someone she'll understand / It's not you and it sure ain't me."

Saturday, October 24, 2020

New sounds from Shemekia Copeland, Caamp, Blitzen Trapper, Bad Religion, Aaron Frazer

Shemekia Copeland: Walk Until I Ride

Her powerful voice commands attention as this blues/r&b singer addresses social issues and matters of the heart on her 10th album, Uncivil War. The album was produced in Nashville with a top-flight cast of musicians and guest stars. This track is a civil rights anthem that has drawn comparisons to the Staples Singers. We have also featured the title single on The Detour, and you'll hear that and other tracks in our mix.

Caamp: Officer of Love

A year after making a mark with their debut album By and By, this indie-folk trio from Ohio is back with this languid and oddly catchy ditty. "She is an officer of love and I'll obey her every word" goes the refrain; don't ask us what the rest of the lyrics are supposed to be about. “We recorded this song on the road in the summer of 2019," the band says. "It’s a tune that’s close to our hearts and one of our favorites to play live. We hope it brings a little joy to your life. Let’s all choose love.” 

Blitzen Trapper: Don't Let Me Run

In a similar laid-back groove - at with lyrics at least as obscure - lies this track from Eric Earley and his band. On their new, tenth album, Holy Smokes Future Jokes, Earley explores concepts of death and rebirth and “the idea that humanity is not the center of the universe, or even the center of our own universe.” As American Songwriter puts it, "the head-scratching concepts go down easy for music that feels like a comforting warm breeze on a cool spring day.” 

Bad Religion: What Are We Standing For

This Los Angeles band has been blasting angry punk rock for some 40 years. Why stop now? The group says the new single is an expression of solidarity with athletes and others who have “taken a knee to protest police brutality and racism” instead of standing for the U.S. national anthem. "A counterfeit political currency / Shouldn't stand there as a patriotic call." Consequence of Sound writes that the track is an outtake from Bad Religion’s 2019 album The Age of Unreason, and would have fit nicely on that record. It’s a rollicking uptempo rocker with catchy chords and some sick pick slides — a Bad Religion staple."

Aaron Frazer: Bad News

The resurgence of soul music continues with the upcoming album by this Brooklyn-based singer. The falsetto-voiced co-vocalist and drummer of Durand Jones and the Indications recorded his solo debut in Nashville with production by the ubiquitous Dan Auerbach. Of this song, Frazer says: "I wrote ‘Bad News’ last November, originally as a song about climate change ... But today, I think it's taken on a new meaning. It's become a song that gives voice to the things everybody is experiencing right now: isolation, and figuring out how to get through our daily life in the face of relentless bad news.” Introducing... Aaron Frazer is due in January. 

Saturday, October 17, 2020

David Shaw + Middle Kids + Don't Fear the Natives + Springsteen + introducing Flor and the Sea

David Shaw: Shaken

The frontman of New Orleans rockers The Revivalists is out with two singles ahead of an upcoming solo album. According to Glide Magazine: "Despite having a red-hot 2019, the band was planning to take a little break and Shaw was ready to take a leap of intuition into some music without his bandmates." (However, the band's website shows they're planning new shows in the spring.) Shaw describes "Shaken" as a song "for anyone who feels different, left out, misunderstood, or insecure – I want you to know that the things that make you feel that way now can be the same things that can lead you to your purpose or passion, to your happiness or success." The accompanying video portrays a teenage guitarist persevering despite bullying.

Middle Kids: R U 4 Me

Photo: Daphne Nguyen
Coincidentally, the video for this song also depicts a boy being bullied - at a military school where he's clearly out of place. Clash Music calls the track "a tightly wound, perfectly portrayed blast of adolescent ennui." Lead singer Hannah Joy recounts: "I was at university once and there were all these signs on the walls saying 'Be Nice It's Not That Hard.' The tone of the message itself actually wasn’t very nice or kind… We are always looking around at other people thinking ‘are you on my team?’ I think this just results in us all feeling lonely." True to form, the Sydney, Australia, trio wraps its angsty message in bouncy, upbeat pop. 

Don't Fear the Natives: Catch a Wave

This six-piece band from Ireland's County Donegal made a splash last year with its debut EP, Stupid Heart. Now comes the first single from a planned LP. The group is known for mixing folk and rock sounds, and this track opens with a few chords strummed on an acoustic guitar before it's drowned out by crunchy electric guitar and drums. Then Clair McDaid's vocal rings out clearly above the racket, creating a sharp contrast that makes for an exhilarating listen. Says McDaid: "We love to rock it out, but there's an edgier, occasionally delicate side that we love exploring - the vulnerabilities of relationships, the heartaches, and sometimes those small victories in between."

Bruce Springsteen: Ghosts

This is the second single released head of the new album, Letter to You, which is due out this week. It's a tribute to late E Street Band members Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici, Springsteen assistant Terry Magovern - and by extension, others of the dear departed. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Springsteen said: "I live with the dead every day at this point in my life. Whether it’s my father or Clarence or Danny, all those people sort of walk alongside you. Their spirit, their energy, their echo continues to resonate in the physical world.… A beautiful part of living is what we’re left by the dead.”

Flor and the Sea: A Candid Lie

We've just been introduced to this dreamy electro-pop from Munich. Marc Aretz (guitars and synths) and Chaem (vocals) were part of a five-piece band that released a couple of singles before breaking up in 2017. The two decided to keep Flor and the Sea alive, released a couple of singles as a duo, and developed an elaborate live show involving light works, masks and backing musicians. They adapted the show to a livestream to preview their upcoming debut album, Kings & Queens, which includes this new single. It's described as "built around its loop-like complex beat, its synth hook and its haunting vocal refrain" and filled out with "vocal samples, guitar lines, feedback, additional synth layers and bass modulations, all carefully arranged to give the listener something new to discover with each listen."

Saturday, October 10, 2020

New from Janelle Monáe, The War and Treaty, Marin Patenaude, Future Islands, Mäya Mäya

Janelle Monáe: Turntables 

Songs of political protest have become as common recently as they were in the late 60s, as reactionary forces try to reverse the past five decades of progress. This new single is part of the soundtrack for a documentary called All In: The Fight for Democracy that looks at the history of voter suppression in the U.S. Monáe says she's not trying to lead a movement, but to lend her voice. "I’m simply watching, examining, and wanting to highlight all of the people who are on the frontlines fighting for our democracy, fighting against racial inequalities, fighting against white supremacy, fighting against systemic racism, and systemic oppression. So, this song is to keep us motivated."

The War And Treaty: Five More Minutes

This is shaping up as a breakthrough hit for the Nashville-based duo of Michael Trotter and Tanya Blount Trotter. Rolling Stone calls their second album, Hearts Town, a "huge leap forward ... expand[ing] on the rootsy textures of their 2018 debut, Healing Tide. This song's title and refrain grew from a dark moment, and turning point, when Trotter, an Iraq veteran with PTSD, was feeling suicidal but heeded his wife's plea to stay with her. "Transforming trauma into catharsis has become the pair's calling card as they've turned into one of Nashville's most thrilling new acts," RS writes in a feature article in its October issue. 

Marin Patenaude: The Build

Ariana Flynn Photography
On the surface, this song is about building a house on one's own: "All of it’s crooked, nothing sits square, it’s a carpenters nightmare / I filled in the cracks but the breeze always tracks me down." We're inclined to think of it as a metaphor for constructing one's own idiosyncratic life. The track is from Sight Unseen, the second album from this British Columbia-based singer-songwriter. We began playing it over the summer on the Birch Street Bistro (our program of singer-songwriters and music on the softer side, daily at Noon ET/9am PT). Now we're moving it into the New Music bin, never mind that it's been out for several months. Other tracks from the LP will also turn up in our big mix. 

Future Islands: Walking

With the release of As Long As You Are, the Baltimore-based Islands "take another step further from their trademark sound of nimble bass lines, gloomy synth washes, pulsing rhythms, and Samuel T. Herring's desperately cajoling vocals towards something grander and more epic," writes AllMusic. We previously featured the single "For Sure," and now we're featuring another of the album's more upbeat tracks, which review calls "probably the closest to classic Islands, with Herring's ripped-from-the-heart words and voice riding the music like a beatnik crowd surfer." 

Mäya Mäya: Both Names

We dip back into this Glasgow-based band's debut release for another taste of what Words for Music calls its "striking and original" sound. On this track, the indie-music blog says, "The quirky guitar part from guitarist Tony Miller reverberates throughout with Clara Robb singing in synergy. The lyrics are imaginative, conveying a sense of yearning and longing." We previously featured "Lifeguard" in the New Music bin, and we're stirring the rest of the four-track EP, Cutting Teeth, into our mix as well.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Fresh tracks from Dawes, Fleet Foxes, Lauren Mann, Bastille, Bully added to our big mix

Dawes: Still Feel Like a Kid

With its updated take on 70's California folk-rock and its thoughtful lyrics, this band fits neatly into our mix. We'll be playing various tracks from their new, seventh LP, Good Luck With Whatever. As puts it, lead singer/songwriter Taylor Goldsmith "is in an anxious mood ... writ[ing] candidly about growing older and finding ways to retain a sense of identity in an increasingly complicated and troubling world." This song is one of the most light-hearted on the album, and we can relate to the idea of never really feeling like a grown-up. 

Fleet Foxes: Can I Believe You

The first couple of albums by this Seattle folk/rock band were filled with sweet vocal harmonies. They branched out into more complex (and less radio-friendly) music on their third album, Crack-Up. Their new release, Shore, combines some of that album's "more experimental elements [with] the brightness found on preceding albums," the Associated Press wrote. For this track, singer/songwriter Robin Pecknold wanted a swelling chorus of voices. Unable to assemble singers amid social distancing, AP reports, "he reached out to fans on Instagram to gather the vocals. The track features hundreds of voices who answered his call."

Lauren Mann: Dear Forever

From California and Seattle we move farther up the Pacific Coast to British Columbia's Gulf Islands, home to this singer-songwriter who captured our attention four years ago with her third album, Dearestly. She describes this track from her new collection, Memory & Desire, as "a song for those moments in a relationship when you start asking questions and wondering if the future really is forever." The album is billed as Mann's "most honest and vulnerable, chronicling ... the ending of a marriage, the rediscovery of self, and the exploration of love, community, and meaning."  

Bastille: Survivin'

The South London group headed by Dan Smith continues turning out music at a rapid pace. They followed last year's Doom Days LP with this summer's single "What You Gonna Do???" and are back with another that pushes their sound in a different direction. This one is less edgy, more of groovy shuffle. We could do without the touches of auto-tune but love the saxophone breaks. The song features yet another lyric that was written pre-Covid but takes on new resonance. Says Smith: "At the start of lockdown I felt very self-conscious about having written a song that felt relevant when it wasn’t intended to be, but then I also think 2020 is the year we all stopped pretending everything’s fine.” 

Bully: Where To Start

Needing a dose of high-energy rock to round out our New Music bin, we turn back a few months to catch up with Sugaregg, the third album by Nashville-based Alicia Bognanno, a.k.a. Bully. Stereogum called it "pretty much the platonic ideal of a rock song as a pop song, right down to its exactly three-minute runtime." Since the 2017 LP Losing, Bognanno has parted with her former bandmates and turned Bully into a solo project, while working for the first time with outside producers.