AS HEARD ON TV: Alabama Shakes, “You Ain’t Alone” on Parenthood
If you’re ready for lots of feelings about a fictional family, then Parenthood is the show for you. It gets to the core of relationships among parents and kids, husbands and wives, cousins, and everyone else in between. Parenthood also tackles some tough themes like Asperger syndrome, interracial marriage, and cancer. When you add Lauren Graham in a lead role and the fact that the music director for the show has better taste in indie/alternative artists than many so-called music connoisseurs (including me), Parenthood is a totally acceptable way to spend an evening simultaneously cheering and bawling your eyes out.
First thing’s first, I’m the realest Alabama Shakes needs to go back on tour ASAP. Brittany Howard has such a unique voice with an energy that is pretty impossible to escape. Not to mention, she knows damn well how to rock a polka dot dress. Alabama Shakes’ “You Ain’t Alone,” one of the standout tracks from the debut Boy & Girls, was featured in the fourth season of Parenthood. The focus of the show is all about togetherness - that episode was actually called “Together” - so “You Ain’t Alone” makes perfect sense. It is more subdued than the hit “Hold On,” but not any less impactful. Brittany Howard has this talent of getting straight to the soul and I couldn’t be more grateful.
The final months of anguish have come to an end. NPR Music is streaming Cymbals Eat Guitars’ new album, Lose, two weeks before its official release date, allowing us to indulge in their beautifully grim world.
The moment before you’re about to listen to an album you’ve been waiting years to hear is always restless. With Lose, there is a bit familiarity, opening with their first single “Jackson” and transitioning into “Warning,” which was released a few days prior to the NPR First Listen. It is the perfect way to open the album; the cooing vocals and atmospheric guitars make it feel as though we are entering into their world, and as soon as the harmony begins, we know we have arrived. From there, Cymbals Eat Guitars take us through a whirlwind of emotions, extracting moments from their lives that have been lingering for quite some time, but have never been allowed to surface.
One of the unexpected qualities of this new album that varies from the prior two is the instrumentation. As “Warning” comes to an abrupt close, a harmonica comes optimistically crashing in, sweeping us off into a state of surprise and ecstasy in the brilliant third track “XR.” (It also shows a resemblance to Titus Andronicus’ self-titled track from their album, The Airing of Grievances.) As frontman Joseph D’Agostino screams, “The songs we never wrote that flowed above and below me,” he moves you beyond words as you realize his pain after the loss of his best friend and abusive upbringings.
In Why There Are Mountains and Lenses Alien, the band avoided writing about anything too serious. But Lose is different. It shows signs of maturity. Their recklessness and the moments where it felt like they were spiraling out of control are not as prevalent in this album; the songs never fully reach the point of explosion that so many tracks on their previous albums had (ex. “Rifle Eyesight” and “…And The Hazy Sea.”) It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is a change in pace. There are even a few slower songs, one in particular being, “Child Bride,” where the violins and a piano will steal your heart away.
The three years it took for Cymbals Eat Guitars to craft this album was well worth the wait. Lose is forty-three minutes of sheer bliss. It is inspiring and undoubtedly one of the best albums of the year.
A few tracks in particular to check out: “Warning,” “XR,” “Chambers,” and “2 Hip Soul.”
There’s an xkcd comic that exposes the secret coalition to make certain YouTube videos go viral: they have to get exactly “300+” likes from the committee, and are then certified to spread like the plague onto innocent newsfeeds worldwide.
In that vein, I present you with <5K: an exposition on bands that have less than 5,000 likes online. Perhaps one of them will be the next to pass that mysterious threshold into the world of fame and fortune. After all, once you get 5,000 likes, you sell out every show and your records go gold. That’s how it works, right?
*Submissions* If you’re in a band, your friend is in a band, or you just know a band with less than 5,000 likes that deserves to be heard, send a link to email@example.com. If I like it, I’ll put them in an upcoming edition of <5K!
Night Kitchen (111 likes) are a band at work. Their latest 7”, “Thai Iced Tea”/”Chief,” is 6 minutes of moxious, caffeinated indie rock. The titular A-side finds the band shaping a super-percussive sound like a clay vessel on a pottery wheel, crafted out of drum-led rhythms and bending to unexpected chords for a solid 2 minutes of instrumental cookery, before singer and guitarist Jordan Levine adds in smooth lines about coming home. Levine’s vocals are almost a garnish atop the carefully-mixed cocktail of guitar, bass, drums, and synths, standing out in context but not dominating the balance. In this regard, Night Kitchen might draw sonic comparisons to My Morning Jacket. Like the delicious drink of its namesake, Thai Iced Tea is refreshing, lively, and makes me want to move. Listen to Night Kitchen and hope they come out with a full-length soon.
Baklavaa (611 likes) are a Baltimore band cooking up something strange and good. Their album Spiral Cramp from 2013 is a far-out spiked concoction of noise, post-punk, sludge, and dance-punk, with tens of other microgenres peeking through the haze of distortion and chameleonic sonic manipulation. They never wear out an idea, choosing instead to cycle rapidly through multiple structures within each song like bullets in a chamber. Tracks like “Handbook for the Recently Deceased” and the intro to opener “Holy Blood” reveal a drone influence on Baklavaa, though truly, the closest comparison I can draw is to Mr. Bungle. If that means something to you, I’ve said enough; if not, you should probably listen to Mr. Bungle. Then go listen to Baklavaa.
Beach Slang (1,975 likes) exploded onto the East Coast punk scene this spring with their breakneck-paced EP, Who Would Ever Want Something So Broken? The 4 concise songs combine the driven energy of classic distorted chords with astute lyricism about being young, fucked up, and trying to make sense of love. It blurs the line between not giving a damn and thinking all too much, right on the corner of punk and poetry. It’s an astoundingly strong first offering, both musically and in concept. Beach Slang recently announced their upcoming record Cheap Thrills On A Dead End Street, out on the Tiny Engines label September 30th. Big things are in store for this band, and people with their ears to the ground have already begun to take notice.
Recommended tracks: “Filthy Luck,” “Get Lost”
VLMA (2,095 likes) is a rock band, also from Baltimore, based around songwriting and multi-instrumentalist duo Alex Velle and Travis Kuncl. Their recent record Slime is a scathing 4-song breath of fire. It’s straightforward, opening with dark riffs and unabashed, mosh-ready choruses. It’s high energy and direct, like staring into the sun. Velle’s guitar work is nuanced enough to place a step above most standard punk guitarists, and Kuncl’s angry vocals, capable of switching between strongly melodic and harshly screamed, are what seal the deal. 4 songs about cyberbullying, boredom, and acceptance of disappointment add up to a promising step forward.
Recommended tracks: “Phil Wood,” “Slime”
The Motel Beds (2,383 likes) tried to think up the dirtiest, nastiest thing possible for their name. The Dayton, OH band is constantly evolving musically, never settling with one sound. They’ve been playing together for a while now, and they’ve covered a wide range of musical ground, from folk-punk to lo-fi; their most recent LP, Dumb Gold, is their best yet. Dumb Gold is heavy with the hooks. It’s catchy, carefully crafted power pop, with tons of nuances and interesting influences. They’re just loads of fun and catchy as all hell. From the infectious rocker opener “Smoke Your Homework” to the cutting ballad closer “Motion Sickness,” it’s a sublimely balanced record. Throw in the lovely guitar work, top-notch drumming, and boom – it’s a fuzzy mid-fi classic.
Recommended tracks: “Smoke Your Homework,” “Better,” “Motion Sickness”
I know that when people see the words “music” and “August,” they usually jump straight to celebrating the “songs of the summer” — big jams that get you moving and are perfect for those sunny days we all know and love — but I was a little sleepy when I first started putting this mix together, so I went in a bit of a different direction. I went a little more somber with my song choices. Sorry.
But I beg of you, please still give this a listen. I find there’s nothing quite like being overcome by the beauty of a (relatively) sad song. And anyways, I’m a little biased but I promise you this mix is pretty fantastic — even if won’t quite have you dancing in your chair.
*Honorable mention to the song “Betelgeuse” by Joywave. It’d be on the list but isn’t on Spotify.
Sparks definitely feels like a new Imogen Heap album in that it’s a whole lot different from all the Imogen Heap albums before it. This should come as no surprise, though. Throughout her career, Heap has been known for experimenting with and evolving her recording process. In particular, Heap has embraced technology in a way that feels fresh, liberating, and unique. Her last album, Ellipse, was recorded at Heap’s childhood house and featured ordinary sounds — such as the crackle of a fire, the drip of the sink, and the thudding sound of her finger running along the banister — that she recorded while walking around the estate with super cool earphone-microphone things. That’s a technical term.
Although it was recorded over a long 3 years, Sparks continues Imogen Heap’s innovative trend. Much like Ellipse, Imogen Heap first built this album around “sound seeds” — short recordings of random, “ordinary” sounds, this time sent to her by hundreds of fans. But she didn’t stop there. (That wouldn’t be cool enough for the new Imogen Heap album, now would it?) Sonically, this album features a couple new territories for Imogen Heap. While spending six weeks staying in China and traveling around South East Asia, Heap managed to write and record music influenced by Asian culture and music. Of those songs, ”Minds Without Fear” stands out as the most diverse recording on the album. It features Indian duo Vishal-Shekhar who bring a strong, but very welcome Indian presence to the music.
Even beyond this, Imogen Heap continues to evolve in the most wonderful of ways. For Sparks, she managed to create her own new way of recording music. That’s right, the song ”Me the Machine” was written and recorded using her really freaking cool Mi.Mu Gloves — a device she literally had built and programmed to be able to record and perform music interactively. Seriously, watch this video, it’s mind-blowing:
And then there is “Run-Time,” a song created through a soon to be released running app that, yes, Imogen Heap also helped develop. Feeling unaccomplished yet? Well, she’s also released a music video for every song on the album
Imogen Heap’s continual innovation is exactly what gives each of her album their own unique feel. The way she manages to one-up herself in creativity is not just fascinating, but absolutely admirable. On top of this, the music is fantastic. Every single time.
It might have taken three years for Imogen Heap to make Sparks, but it’s a welcome new chapter to a career that seemingly can’t stop evolving. Long story short, Imogen Heap is still kicking ass and still taking names in the only way she knows how: making up new ways new ways to kick ass and take names.
As I was browsing through a list of the latest jazz releases, an interesting combination of names caught my eye. (No, it wasn’t a Kenny G/Dave Koz sax power duo, but we can only hope.) The first name to stand out was Vijay Iyer, an Indian-American pianist whose stature has grown exponentially in the past few years. Next was Reggie Workman, a bassist who’s been around the block roughly a million times. Then there was Andrew Cyrille, a drummer who I knew to be heavily into the avant-garde. There was also Oliver Lake, who I wasn’t familiar with.
These four musicians have pooled their talents to create the adventurous Wiring. Workman, Cyrille, and Lake form the core group - called Trio 3 - while Iyer is billed as a guest. They all share a sensibility of breaking from a traditional mold, but also bring distinct stylistic elements from their different backgrounds.
The first track, called “The Prowl,” has Lake and Iyer stabbing out a disjointed melody. They play the same notes at the same time, but the variations in their sounds create a unique effect. This is evident in the slight disagreement on things like timbre, intonation, and rhythmic placement. It makes clear that the group is not concerned with being perfectly clean, instead looking for something a little more off-putting or abrasive.
Later in this track, Iyer takes a lengthy solo. It contains strong elements of the seminal pianist Andrew Hill, who Iyer has referenced as an influence. There are some sections that deliberately put forth an idea, often veering into atonality. Other sections include tropes of bebop and hard bop. Nothing is rushed and the ideas flow well into each other.
The second track, “Synapse II,” opens with a scream from the horn of Lake, accompanied by a furious roar from the rest of band. On this song, Lake demonstrates his command of the free jazz idiom. He goes on shredding runs up and down his instrument, summoning a primal energy. He also plays around with recurring motifs, showing that there is some outline to what he is doing. It brings to mind some other pleasingly bombastic sax men, including Archie Shepp and David Murray.
The group tackles a recent topical issue in the three-part “Suite for Trayvon (and Thousands More).” This piece succeeds based on the different places it is willing to go, addressing a number of emotions. The first movement, “Slimm,” is more light-hearted and seems to address Trayvon Martin as he would be remembered by his friends. The second movement, “Fallacies,” falls into a heavy groove and seethes throughout. The third movement, “Adagio,” is somber and reflective, but not overly sentimental.
The final track, “Tribute to Bu,” has an incredible feeling of propulsion. Cyrille pounds on his toms a few times before tearing into a lightning-fast beat. Workman creeps in with some eerie bass bowing. Lake makes like a hornet with a swarm of squeaky notes. Iyer adds some bubbling dissonance, reminiscent of former Cyrille collaborator Cecil Taylor. After these interjections, the focus returns to the drums, which leap around with manic energy for a few minutes before screeching to a halt.
Naomi Punk probably won’t be up for the “feel-good album of the year” anytime soon; however, they may for most underrated. Hailing from the beautiful, rainy state of Washington, the all-male trio certainly incorporates characteristics of the notoriously influential grunge-rock scene in their album, Television Man. Everything revolves around the powerful pounding of the bass, the gritty guitar lines, and the muffled lo-fi vocals, which are incredibly difficult to understand, but you can feel the message is insightful.
The word eon is defined as an indefinitely long period of time. It’s not normally depicted as a word with negative connotation, but if you pair it with the word “pain,” the meaning changes instantaneously. Over halfway through the album comes the song “Eon of Pain.” If the title doesn’t speak enough for itself, the members of Naomi Punk then somehow turn it into music. It is the eeriest song on the album as it almost tries to define the shallowness in which we live our lives. More than half the song is the guitar and bass beating away to the same beat, as if it were a metronome; random spurts of droning sound in the background throughout. Everyday we are alive, but are we really doing anything substantial or just going through the motions? This desolation that Naomi Punk is trying to convey will correlate differently to different listeners, but regardless of how we depict the meaning, the amount of pessimism isn’t tarnished.
Transitioning to another upper, “Linoleum Tryst #19” has become one of the most listened to songs on the album. Perhaps it has to do with being able to relate to Travis Coster as he repeatedly sings, “you opened the door,” and the sense of longing we feel as we watch someone walk away.
The album finishes strong with “Whirlpool of Anguish” transitioning into the eight-minute closer, “Rodeo Trash Pit.” Despite the name of the song, “Whirlpool of Anguish,” is easily one of the most beautiful songs on the album. It is purely instrumental with guitar melodies that will leave you in a state of wonderment. Through all of the grittiness and crass insight, there are many moments in Television Man that are surprisingly alluring, forcing you to take a step back. Here’s to the grungiest album of the year thus far, and finding beauty in the dark.
Some other tracks to check out: “Plastic World no. 6” and “Eleven Inches.”
Bass Drum of Death’s new single shows what great sounds will come from their third LP, Rip This, to be released on October 7th. Yes, this seems to be a cleaner, buttoned-up version of Bass Drum of Death, but the band still embraces their visceral, garage rock roots, which is made clear through the unreal riffs on this track. “Left for Dead” keeps John Barrett’s reckless guitar riffs, but adds new elements that could be due to the influence of new bandmate and collaborator Len Clark.
Either way, if their previous LPs appealed to you or you have the desire to listen to some audacious rock and roll, “Left for Dead” is the newest track to add to your playlist.
The night of Mac Demarco’s show in late-July was one to remember. Mac and his touring band (+closest friends) are notorious for being outrageously goofy; their show at 9:30 was no exception. About halfway through the show there were Celtic riddles, a cover of Coldplay’s “Yellow,” and a heavy dose of bromance. The secret weapon of the band is the mega-cutie lead guitarist, Peter Sagar. After watching him perform that night, it was evident how talented of a musician he is.
As it turns out, Peter actually has a side project, which is just as quirky, more experimental, and highlights his massive amount of musicianship. The band is called HOMESHAKE and they released “The Homeshake Tape” last year. If you are like me and overlooked this album, it is in your best interest to check it out; it could easily become your favorite album of the year.
A new single has just been released, “Cash Is Money;” hopefully a sign that another album is in progress. The song inherits the perfect combination of the quirkiness of Mac Demarco and the simplicity of fellow Captured Tracks artist, Chris Cohen. While there are certainly a couple complex guitar and bass riffs, Peter Sagar doesn’t take himself too seriously, which is refreshing and much needed in the music industry. If you’re super stressed out, listen to “Cash Is Money,” and that tension will inevitably decompose.
AS HEARD ON TV: "Where Does the Good Go," Tegan & Sara on Grey’s Anatomy
Yes, I am one of those people who still watches Grey’s Anatomy and no, I’m not ashamed. I will stick with my girl Shonda Rhimes (watch her amazing commencement speech here) until the end, even though most of my favorite characters are gone and the show has long since run out of dramatic plot lines. Angsty high school me found solace in Grey’s Anatomy because while the circumstances were not always believable, I could connect with a boy being heartless set to the backdrop of Rilo Kiley or trouble at work amplified by Ingrid Michaelson’s “Keep Breathing.” Also, this show is as close as I’ll ever get to a career in the medical field.
If Tegan & Sara did not provide the soundtrack to some of your dreary adolescent days, then my condolences, you sure missed out. Particularly in the early seasons of Grey’s Anatomy, there was at least one Tegan & Sara track in almost every episode and the best I think was “Where Does The Good Go.” The Quin sisters just have this ability to emote inescapable despair and be charming at the same time, which fits in well with the moody nature of Grey’s Anatomy. “Where Does The Good Go” pinpoints sadness, but it’s the kind of song you could belt out with your best friend, mutually condemning those jerks who left you both behind. Beyond being indie pop/rock geniuses, Tegan & Sara are equal rights activists and all around wonderful humans.
We love Music Monday so much that we’re giving you a double dose today!
MUSIC MONDAY PLAYLIST: Kelsey’s Picks - I Am Not A Crook
I don’t really remember the ’70s and ’80s, mostly because I hadn’t been born yet. But my parents sure do, and they passed their love of the era’s singer-songwriter tunes on to me. Some songs are cheesier than others, but all of them are comforting and make for an odd kind of nostalgia. So when you listen to this playlist, picture that faded polaroid of your dad in a puffy orange vest.
The contents of this mix are all about movement…dancing, if you will. For me, it’s a mixture of jumping up and down, shimmying, intense-shoulder-shrugging, vertical air-punching, high kicks, air drumming and other interpretive moves. It’s summertime, people! I think it’s important to compile the perfect warm weather mix with songs that span the decades. Gotta diversify! Go back to the old stuff as well as embracing the new. Now, get down and let loose!
NEW TRACKS: Justin Townes Earle, “Time Shows Fools”
Alt-country man Justin Townes Earle is back with this single off his upcoming album Single Mothers. It’s an agreeable number that tumbles along over a driving drumbeat and lightly distorted guitar. The title phrase - “time shows fools” - appears throughout as a gentle note of regret and word of caution.
What stands out most about the track is Earle’s singular delivery. He moves freely between near-mumble and full-voiced singing. He can sound both tortured and confident within the span of a few bars. His phrasing is pleasantly varied, as he will sometimes stretch out syllables and other times fit as many as possible into a small space.
If you’re into fellow artists that straddle the line between rock and country (think Ryan Adams or Jason Isbell), give this one a shot. The backing has that crack-Nashville-session-player sound, and the man at the front has a good story to tell.
There’s an xkcd comic that exposes the secret coalition to make certain YouTube videos go viral: they have to get exactly “300+” likes from the committee, and are then certified to spread like the plague onto innocent newsfeeds worldwide. In that vein, I present you with <5K: exposition on bands that have less than 5,000 likes online. Perhaps one of them will be the next to pass that mysterious threshold into the world of fame and fortune… after all, once you get 5,000 likes, you sell out every show and your records go gold. That’s how it works, right?
*Submissions* If you’re in a band, your friend is in a band, or you just know a band with less than 5,000 likes that deserves to be heard, send a link to firstname.lastname@example.org. If I like it, I’ll put them in an upcoming edition of <5K!
Two Inch Astronaut (870 likes) are a Colesville, MD band that put the term “power trio” through a nasty shredder of punk and prog-hardcore without ever sounding contrived. Their latest record, Bad Brother, is a triumph of constantly-evolving sound, hard to describe or fit into a genre without feeling like you’ve skipped a step. It covers all sorts of ground, from twitchy riffing to Misfits-esque fast punk, in the span of a single song. Their live show is a spectacle to behold, leaving the audience either moshing furiously or simply staring in awe. Two Inch Astronaut have unforgettable presence and constant gigging on their side; they can be found throwing it down, without compromise, across Maryland, Virginia, and wherever there’s boundary-pushing music to be found. I love this band.
Recommended tracks: “swol,” “blood from a loyal hound,” “he was our boy”
G-Nome Project (1,218 likes) is a Jerusalem-based electro-funk group that has been making serious waves in the United States. Though they only have live recordings online so far, those recordings, combined with a dedicated fanbase, have been enough to spread their name across the ocean. They recently reached the goal for their Kickstarter-funded first U.S. tour, and are coming to melt heads across the country. Drawing influences from Phish, The Disco Biscuits, Talking Heads, and Pink Floyd, the members of G-Nome Project craft a ridiculously danceable, highly energetic jamtronica sound that shifts moment to moment, keeping the audience on its toes. They transition seamlessly from their practiced originals into jam crowd favorites, such as “Run Like Hell,” “Shakedown Street,” and “2001” in the span of a single set. Check their tour dates, and if they’re coming your way, don’t miss your chance to catch this rare and phenomenal band.
DC quartet Dot Dash (1,076 likes) have been consistently putting out superb neo-punk records on Canadian label The Beautiful Music for a few years now, keeping their sound fresh and alive with hearty sprinklings of alternative and power-pop for flavor. On their third album, Half-Remembered Dream, Dot Dash has honed their songwriting to short, snappy headbangers, with a crucially dependable rhythm section and traditional without being derivative. “Here’s to the ghost of the past, and things that don’t last,” sings frontman Terry Banks, combining straight-up rock ‘n’ roll and rare introspection on the album’s opener. Through the album, Banks ranges from quoting Yeats on “Hands of Time,” to The Sound of Music on “Do Re Mi.” These references cement the idea of Dot Dash: paying homage to previous greats in the context of individual creativity. The two forces combine to make Half-Remembered Dream a special album from a hardworking band.
Recommended tracks: “Hands of Time,” “Do Re Mi,” “Fiction Section”
Cobalt Cranes (3,177 likes) is a California band making some psychedelic sounds that swirl like clouds around your head in a most satisfying way. Their recent full-length, Days In The Sun, out last week on Lolipop Records, is a fuzzed-out daydream of bliss, sounding like The Strokes moved out to L.A. Founding members Tim and Kate build their homegrown sound out of ‘60s garage rock and ‘90s grunge, filtering it all through washed out colors. They trade off vocal lines, never sounding cliché, but evoking purity of melody and true nonchalant sincerity. Though they’ve been making music for years now, Days In The Sun is their greatest accomplishment – a true gem, a complete album in every sense of the word, and without pretense or overdramatics. It’s simple, strong, and good. Listen to it.
Diarrhea Planet’s bio reads, “Shred til you’re dead.” With four lead guitarists, shredding is at a constant. After releasing I’m Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams last year, the boys are back with all the riffs we love in their newest single, “Spooners.” The song picks up right where the album left off, allowing us to feel inspired while simultaneously making us want to get into a little mischief. When it seems as though the song is ending about two minutes in, it leaves us yearning for more. Thankfully the drum kicks the song back into an explosion of energy to finish out the song in true Diarrhea Planet fashion.
While the name of the band is a bit foolish (it’s always a challenge wearing their t-shirt in public), they have formed a cult of followers. Attending one of their shows is always filled with hard hitting guitar-based jams that have heads banging all the way through, while a man in a hot dog costume plays the tambourine while eating a banana. While this sounds completely crazy, this is Diarrhea Planet. They are slowly bringing back the beautiful rock and roll one single at a time.
I’m dubbing this the “Summer of the Side Project.” Even though I’m probably missing a ton, there’s been Tweedy, Bleachers, Ben Ottewell, and now Owl John. For the unfamiliar, Owl John is not actually an owl, or someone named John. Unfortunately, it also isn’t an owl named John, because that would have been awesome. Fortunately, what it might lack in nocturnal birds of prey, Owl John makes up for in awesomeness. You see, Owl John is the solo project of Scott Hutchison, the lead singer and songwriter of the fabulous band that’s also named after an animal, Frightened Rabbit.
It’s always interesting to see what direction musicians will take with their solo/side projects — do they stay with the sound they are already well known for, or do they branch out and try to head in a completely different direction? Of course, there’s always the third option to split the difference and shoot for a sound that is both familiar but different.
Trying to get a gauge on Owl John before listening to it is an interesting ordeal. The album has an unusual back-story. Instead of feeling the creative need to branch out on his own (as is the inspiration for many of the solo albums in history), Scott Hutchison actually recorded Owl John at his record label’s suggestion during a year off. Frightened Rabbit were taking a breather from touring and recording, and Hutchison’s label thought releasing a solo album would be a good idea.
They were right.
For a Frightened Rabbit fan (which I am), Owl John is fantastic. The album doesn’t ever feel too foreign from Frightened Rabbit’s work, but it never feels like a stale spinoff, either. The first single, “Hate Music,” exemplifies this relationship in the way it blended new with the old. Sonically, all the things that make Frightened Rabbit great — the melancholy, the grit, and the passion — are all there, just kicked up a notch in a way that feels fresh and new. But it doesn’t just stop with “Hate Music.” The entire album manages to bring a fresh, albeit dark, feel to the Frightened Rabbit sound we all know and love, and it’s apparent from the first moment that “Cold Creeps” kicks off the album.
So, if you’re jonesing for a new Frightened Rabbit record (as you always should be), then Owl John should be the perfect off-year surprise; a dark, brooding surprise.
Cymbals Eat Guitars fans have waited three long years since the release of Lenses Aliens. After hearing the newest single, “Warning,” from their upcoming album Lose, it appears that the last month will be just about unbearable. It beholds all of the characteristics that are a necessity to their music, proving they aren’t losing steam anytime soon.
The song opens with a guitar riff almost identical to “Shore Points,” only at a quicker tempo and more aggressive. Although the song doesn’t have any extraordinary transitions that leave us in a state of surprise, which Cymbals Eat Guitars has become notorious for, it is still a mastered piece of art. With cutting lyrics that will reach right into your soul and guitars screeching to the point of detonation, Lose has quickly become one of the most anticipated albums of 2014. August 26th can’t come soon enough.
I fell in love with Wampire last year when they became the soundtrack to my fall; their debut album, Curiosity, found a spot on my top ten of 2013. After the release of their new single, “Wizard Staff,” it appears they are going to do it all over again with Bazaar, out on October 7th.
“Wizard Staff” has all of the psychedelic vibes we grew to love from their debut, but layered on top of these characteristics is the beautiful styling of the saxophone, giving off a very Unknown Mortal Orchestra sound. This may be a fairly good indicator of what the album will sound like since it is produced by UMO’s producer, Jacob Portrait.
The song itself is the perfect transition as the summer fades out and the fall slowly approaches. You could listen to it on a breezy night on the beach as the sun begins to set, or on a bike ride down a dirt road as the leaves change to red. Either way, Wampire will take over your senses and have you swaying to the beat.
Since when is Beck one to do things by the book? This is the man who once recruited his friends to gather in an “informal meeting of various musicians to record an album in a day” five different times, covering everything from The Velvet Underground to Yanni just for the fun of it. But this was years ago and it should come as no surprise that Beck is back up to his unconventional ways. In fact, he’s actually been working on his latest project, Song Reader, for the last decade. Released last month, Song Reader is a collection of 20 songs performed by 20 different artists, only one of which is Beck.
So far this doesn’t sound too crazy, so where am I going with this? Well, Song Reader is a little different than your standard album. Inspired by the time he was given one of his records transcribed as sheet music, Beck set out to release an album as a songbook instead of a record. His goal was to create music that was meant to be read as much as heard, and that would encourage other musicians to interpret, create, and share their own versions.
So, in December of 2012, Beck published his 100-page songbook through Dave Egger’s McSweeney’s publishing company and now, a year-and-a-half later, he’s released a followup in the form of a compilation album featuring all 20 songs from the book.
With a formidable lineup that ranges from Jack Black to Jack White, Norah Jones to Fun., and, yes, Beck himself, expectations should be pretty high for Song Reader. Guess what - it delivers.
As might be expected with such a diverse guest-list, the album has a song for just about everybody. Each artist manages to make their song their own. The Fun. song sounds like it belongs on a Fun. album. Same with Jack White. When Beck first released the songbook, he talked about how different that process was than recording an album. By writing music for others, he was free from the limitations of his own abilities, which allowed him to write songs outside of his usual range. Because of that, Song Reader doesn’t feel like an album of Beck covers, but even still, it’s hard to deny the effect of Beck’s magical touch.
When it comes to local music, D.C. is best known for pioneering go-go, fostering hardcore punk, launching Moombahton, and, now, cultivating indie rock and synthpop greats (see: U.S. Royalty, GEMS). In this uber-rich, hyper-diverse scene, it can be difficult for artists making music in the District’s more marginalized genres, like Americana, to make a splash. But South Rail is doing just that.
The trio, composed of vocalist/keyboardist Lara Supan, vocalist/guitarist Jay Byrd, and drummer Ben Potok, forefronts its Americana rock with honey-sweet, boy-girl harmonies. Between its two EPs - this year’s Stars and last year’s eponymous release - the band has an arsenal of fine-tuned, original songs to take on the road. Currently plotting a January 2015 tour, South Rail is drawing attention for its atypical approach to routing.
Typically, bands route tours themselves or with the help of a hired booking agent. South Rail, however, is booking the first-ever “fully crowdsourced tour,” which allows fans to dictate every tour stop. Through the band’s Pledge Music page, supporters can donate $250 to choose which continental U.S. cities South Rail plays on its upcoming “Take the Wheel” tour.
It’s an ingenious - and economical - idea. According to South Rail, the closest other artists have come to crowdsourcing tours is polling fans as to where to play. While gauging fans’ demand certainly helps with routing, South Rail’s approach puts the decision power in fans’ hands, ultimately making touring even more viable. Not only does it cover upfront costs of touring, such as money for gas and food, but it also ensures a crowd at every show.
So far, donors are taking South Rail to Charlotte, Atlanta, New Orleans, Kansas City, Farmington, and Santa Cruz. 43 days remain for fans to request tour stops. Whattaya say - let’s all pitch in and book South Rail a “Take the Wheel” homecoming show?
The first time I saw Twin Peaks, I just knew. I knew they were going to be great. I had no idea who they were. They were opening for the Orwells at U Street Music Hall. They walked onto the stage, and I heard the guy behind me mutter, “Who are these kids?” Those kids were unforgettable. They had the crowd moshing to the fullest to the opener. When I saw them at Pitchfork Music Festival, they threw a guitar at my face. I ain’t even mad. It was pretty punk rock.
Wild Onion is the album I’ve been looking forward to all summer. Twin Peaks deliver. The first track opens up with a fuzzy guitar noise and slurred lyrics. This is garage rock. There are songs about girls, songs full of swear words, surf-y songs, and songs that make you want to dance. It’s good music.
By the time I got halfway through the album to “Fade Away,” I thought, “These guys can’t write a bad riff!” Good melodies make good albums; good melodies and good lyrics make great albums. Garage rock is becoming hip again. This music isn’t new. Lots of bands are made up of dudes who can play like this, who can sing like this, and who can put on that same devil-may-care attitude. What sets Twin Peaks apart is that their lyrics aren’t, well, dumb. “The album deals with a lot of insecurities that arise when you’re growing up,” explains Cadien. “It’s about adopting them and being vulnerable to let out the tunes. It ain’t ideal, but it’s sublime.”
Twin Peaks manage to write about the struggles of adolescence without being annoying. You can either listen to them over and over on your headphones or blast away in your room when you’re angry at your parents because they won’t let you go to that party with that older boy. The songs aren’t too long, and the album bounces around so you don’t get bored with one sound before the end.
As far as new discovery stories go, mine usually include finding random Daytrotter sessions with intriguing band names or hearing a song on TV and obsessively searching for it after. This time, though, a coworker met a French girl at a party who started playing this new amazing electro pop group, Broken Back. It makes sense that Broken Back is from France because after listening to the three tracks on SoundCloud, I felt like I was transported back to an outdoor Parisian café where it’s customary to stay for hours just enjoying the day. Although the lyrics are all in English, the tone of the vocals and the rhythm of the drums are most definitely French. Think a hint of Phoenix, with Justin Vernon providing upbeat backing vocals. In fact, Broken Back does a great cover of Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love.” The catchiest of the songs released so far is “Happiest Man on Earth,” which is incredibly calming as well as dance-worthy. With already almost 200 thousand plays on SoundCloud for both “Happiest Man on Earth” and “Seven Words,” my hope is that Broken Back is bound for some well-deserved recognition very soon.
With their latest single, “Stay Vicious,” the Gaslight Anthem take a bit of an unexpected turn. The band slows things down and introduces a hint of menace into their sound, marked by heavy guitar and an exploration of the lower register of singer Brian Fallon’s voice.
The song employs a version of the loud-soft strategy that worked so well for Nirvana and the Pixies. At the start, a snare drum calls things to order, leading into a massive wave of power chords. Fallon states his anguish with some choice lines, including, “I feel just like a murder and I feel just like a gun.” He does a good job with Mark Lanegan-esque world-weariness.
This section is balanced with another, mellower one. The guitars turn to gentle atmospherics, and Fallon sounds more lyrical. His words become more optimistic, though there’s an air of insecurity behind them. After these two sections alternate a few times, there’s even a guitar solo that wails and screams. The band sells this foray into slightly murky waters. There’s always been a tortured element to their music, and this just puts it further in the foreground. They get the hard rock nuances right, and include enough rays of light to keep the gloom from taking over.
NEW TRACKS: Chance The Rapper, “Wonderful Everyday”
Everyone who grew up watching the PBS Kids show Arthur remembers its magical theme song, “Wonderful Everyday,” written by Ziggy Marley and impressed upon the hearts of kids across America. Genre-stepping hip-hop prodigy Chance The Rapper has been performing a fantastic cover of it live recently, and last night, he released a jazzy, soulful studio version with vocal cameos from Wyclef Jean and a whole host of others.
You can just imagine the phone call that made it happen.
Chance: “Yo Wyclef, you want to sing on a song I’m putting out?” Wyclef Jean: “What’s the song?” Chance: “It’s the Arthur theme song.” Wyclef Jean: “I mean, obviously.”
It’s an unexpected, delightful cover, and it feels real, real good.
“Spend one more summer, one more season, one more winter by yourself”
This, my friends, is the return of the Rentals to the sound of Return of the Rentals. Matt Sharp, the original bassist and falsetto master of Weezer (who also released a single last week), has gotten the Rentals back together for their first release since 2009’s Songs About Time multimedia project and first proper studio album since 1999’s Seven More Minutes. Oh yes, it has been a while, but the wait has definitely paid off.
This album’s Rentals consist of Sharp, the leading ladies of Lucius, one of Ozma’s guitarists (whose debut has many times been described as “arguably the best Weezer album of 2001”), a string or two, and some drummer guy from an obscure band called the Black Keys. Together they return the band to their sound from ‘95: alt-rock with lead bass and beautiful Moog flairs.
“1000 Seasons,” the second single released from the group’s upcoming Polyvinyl release, Lost in Alphaville (produced by the great Grammy Award-winning D. Sardy), is a new version of a piano-accompanied softer track from Songs About Time entitled “A Thousand Seasons Past.” The lyrics on both versions bemoan the rise of electronic messaging and the ease to fleeting send apologies, saying “the words are not as romantic.” Even though I adored the original, I think this version is far superior, especially if you pine for bass-led alt rock.
The track, instrumentally, sounds like it would’ve fit right in on the group’s debut album. A bass and violin starting things off under Sharp’s delicate vocals, joined in by beautiful female response vocals in the chorus, and finally joined in by the classic synth. All that was missing was some trademark Matt Sharp falsetto (see: every great track from the Blue Album). The drumming from Patrick Carney and Sharp’s synth work are what really stand out on this track.
If the rest of the album sounds like these released tracks, then I think we’ll be in for a real treat. Lost in Alphaville is out August 26th and can be purchased on various formats, including cassette tape for just $8. Bust out your Walkmen!