Wednesday, April 12, 2017

New music video from Sylvan Esso - Radio

One of my favorite bands of all time, Sylvan Esso's new music is on point. Here's the video for their single, Radio.

Monday, April 10, 2017

The best bands I stumbled upon at SXSW2017 - part 1

The great thing about SXSW is that there are more bands converging on Austin that week than probably just about any other music festival in the world. And they're all on their A-game.

While of course I try to see bands I know and love, I leave a little room for spontaneity and wandering too (and free-drink-chasing!). Plus sometimes the lines are just too long to get into the shows you want to see (a problem getting worse and worse each year unfortunately).

But whether they were opening for bands I wanted to see, or I wandered into their show by chance, every year I discover artists that I'm really excited about. In past years, this list has included Fantastic Negrito, Magic Giant, Melanie Martinez, Joseph, Priory, Christine & the Queens, and more.

So without further ado, here is who I was most excited to stumble upon this year:


I was actually familiar with Lizzo before because I had seen her perform with GRRRL PRTY at Paisley Park for Prince's last album release party before his death. GRRRL PRTY sadly broke up last year, but Lizzo had a growing solo career even before they parted ways. This was the first time I got to see her live on her own and she was freaking incredible. She's a powerhouse with awesome style and dance moves. Plus all her music is very feel-good and upbeat so it's a really fun show in general. I wasn't surprised by her talent but I hadn't honestly realized she was part of the lineup (I had gone to see Sylvan Esso).

Good As Hell [Spotify - iTunes]

The National Parks

The National Parks might have one of the worst names I've ever encountered from a Googleability factor (and from a merch factor because a fan in the audience at the show I was at was wearing a shirt with their name but outside of their show, I imagine most people think it's a shirt for the National Park system of the US). That said, they were fantastic. If you like Ra Ra Riot, you'll love The National Parks. With a full, melodic folk-pop sound that incorporates violins, trumpets, banjos, and other instruments, their music tells contemplative stories. Fittingly, their songs are full of nature references and odes. I see these guys going on to big things if people can find them, haha.

As We Ran [Spotify - iTunes]

Close Talker

Canada House was one of the places with the most free drink events so I ended up there a few times when I didn't have other shows on my schedule. There were a few gems there, but my favorite was Close Talker. Catchy hooks, solid vocals, and syncopated rhythms make this trio one to add to your playlists. And good news: they're going on tour (mostly around Canada but there are US and EU dates too!) starting April 12th and releasing a new album on April 21st! So check them out, follow them, tweet at them, help spread the word about these awesome Canadians.

Waking Up [Spotify - iTunes]

The Britanys

Hailing from my former hometown of Brooklyn, The Britanys have a jangly, catchy, pop rock sound similar to The Strokes. From what I can tell they've only been around two years but I think they have a lot of promise and it seems other music publications agree. Check them out so you can say you discovered them before anyone else! 

Basketholder [Spotify - iTunes]

Part 2 of this list coming later this week! Stay tuned!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Album Review: Rainbrother - Tales From the Drought

Rainbrother's upcoming album, "Tales From the Drought," isn't just music - it's a musical experience.

Rainbrother is fronted by the former frontman for The Migrant - Bjarke Bendtsen - and the sound is both new and familiar all at once.

The vast expanse of musical influences are impossible to categorize, but the first half of the album's strongest musical influence almost sounds like it's Ennio Morrocone. (Yes, that Ennio Morricone.) I'd say that listening to the opening track - "Riverside" - sounds much like what I'd think the first movement of an indie symphony would be.

It's weird to call this a departure from the psychedelic folk rock of The Migrant: though it's different, there's a common thread that you can hear running through it, especially when you get to the second song on the album, "East African Dream." This song somehow sounds like The Shins, but with its own twist on its vocals.

The album goes back and forth between soaring instrumentals and poignant verses, and while the opener is my favorite, the energetic track "Break Out" is one of my new go to work out songs... even before I saw the video:

The mellow "Crow" and the upbeat "Juggler" also help round out the album. The final song - "The Sun" - clocking in at a similar length to the opener (about seven and a half minutes long) has beautiful vocals that compliment the instrumentals that helped to open the album.

I've had this album for nearly a month, and each song has at least 30 plays. I can listen to it no matter what my mood, and as I've stated before about my old-man preference for "back-in-the-day," it's not just a collection of songs: it's a great album.

It has shades of Ennio Morricone, I have a new workout song, and every single song is awesome and musically eclectic.

You can find out more about Rainbrother here. They're touring Europe in February, and they'll be in the US at SXSW in March!

You can see more of their music here: Soundcloud | YouTube

You can pre-order the album here: Bandcamp

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Album Review: Griff's Room Band - Heartbreak/Desire

Griff's Room Band sounds a lot like what it would be if Dave Matthews Band and OAR had a baby as a band. If you know me, you know that's actually one of the best compliments I could give a band!

They have the fun, plucky guitar sound that makes OAR and Vampire Weekend super fun listens, and they have the fiddles that sound weirdly perfect in any mode, whether the country-adjacency of Boyd Tinsley's DMB fiddle, the Blue October power violin from Ryan Delahoussaye, or the perfect Petra Haden wistful indie sound.

This album starts off with the great track called "Wasting Time." This is a poppy track that sounds like it traces its roots to OAR, and it's a solid 4 minute-song with a great hook that has dueling melodies from the fiddle and the guitars. The subtle background fiddle jousting with the electric guitar is a compelling background track, and the rhythm guitar pulls everything together. The lyrics almost get lost in the musicality of all the instruments, but you can't discount them, either!

"Bad News" follows that song up with a completely different fiddle/guitar dynamic - bowing the fiddle classically against the wah-wah electric guitar. Pair these with a fun vocal harmony and fast lyrics, and you've got another song that's fun!

"Could Be," "Tie Me Down," and "Don't Fly Far" each have their strengths. "Could Be" is definitely a song that straddles heartbreak and desire, and in this song, the rhythm guitar is the part that shines the most. "Tie Me Down" is a Vampire Weekend-type song that plays with the acoustic guitar interplay, layering both guitars and vocals with major chords and syncopation that makes it so you can't help but smile while listening! The bridge, about two and a half minutes in, builds slowly, but to such soaring melodies that the buildup is worth the payoff. "Don't Fly Far" is a southern rock track that continues to show these guys off!

My two favorite songs on the album are back to back: "Reputation" and "Honey."

"Reputation" is a song that has a super energetic chorus, punctuated by verses that show how much heartbreak - and desire - the singer has for the "her" that this song is about. Again, these guys keep doing interesting things layering their different instruments, and the interplay between the electric guitar, the drums, and the fiddle during the bridge is perfect. These bridges - and most of their outros, too - would provide them with perfect jamming material in a live concert.

"Honey" is one of the longer songs in the album, but it plays with vocal harmonies, as well as intelligently using finger snaps for much of the percussion. The guttoral wailing during the chorus is a powerful foil to the note perfect timing and notes of the verses. This bridge has the most different themes, and I'd really like to see how they would jam this song live.

The rest of the album is also excellent, from the vocal harmonies of "Part of Me," the Reggae-inspired "She Gone," and the rock-blues guitar driven "Stranger" that almost hints at a gospel sound.

In the 10 songs of this album, each band member shines multiple times, and they span music genres from Motown to indie, the 1960s to today, and I really don't know how they get so many sounds out of just four people!

In addition to having great individual songs, the entire album works together as a delightful fusion of alt-country, pop, Americana, and indie. I look forward to hearing more from these guys and trying to see them if they come to town!

You can pre-order the album here, find more about them here, and find them on twitter here.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Album Review: Menace Beach - Lemon Memory

This album is the height of noise, mixed with the perfect amount of garage. Not "noise" like "random sounds" but "noise" like "The Velvet Underground" meets "The Melvins" "noise." If you're looking for varied male and female vocals and note perfect production that makes it sound like these guys are playing in your next door neighbor's garage, this is the band for you.

Their opening track - and first single from the album - "Give Blood" drops you right in the middle of the action. It feels like you're in on a soundcheck and their monitors are off by just enough to let their true talent shine - it feels like you're listening to a hot mic on what was supposed to be a test run for the "real" track. It's raw, it's fun, and Liza's vocals soar when she's given a chance.

But that's nothing compared to "Maybe We'll Drown," where she gets to take the lead and it's difficult to say where her voice ends and the guitar riffs begin.

It's hard to choose a favorite song, but the title track - "Lemon Memory" - is a psychedelic-punk trip of a song that, while perfect on this album, would be just as at home on a "Sonic Youth" album, and it's definitely my favorite of the 10 songs on the album.

"Owl" is another song that lets Liza have the spotlight again, and she doesn't disappoint, carrying us through the whole song on the back of her powerful voice. Her vocal range is beautiful, too.

The final song - "Hexbreaker II" - is a song that starts soft and then crescendos throughout the song to end the album on a high from all the members of the band. It's a superb hammer to drop for the end of the album.

Every single song on this album is not only great in its own right, but they work together as an album experience. (I'd go more into this, but I'm dangerously close to veering into "old man yells at clouds" levels of navel-gazing, so I'll let it go for now...) I also don't want to sound like I'm discounting the songs that are helmed by Ryan, which are excellent as well. Liza's vocals, though... they're just hauntingly great!

This album takes me back to the early days of noise (which, honestly I know about more through the power of the Internet and Pandora than from having followed or lived it), and it is a new addition to the genre that stands up to Sonic Youth's Confusion is Sex, Social Distortion's self-titled album, and  Butthole Surfers' Electriclarryland. I look forward not only to hearing more from them, but I need to go back and check out their other releases from the past couple of years. These guys are a group to watch.

You can pre-order the album here, and find more about them here.

If you're in the UK, you can catch them on tour:
1/23 London - Rough Trade East
1/31 Sheffield - The Picture House
2/01 Leicester - The Cookie
2/02 Birmingham - Hare & Hounds
2/03 Cardiff - Clwb Ifor Bach
2/04 Southampton - The Joiners
2/06 Oxford - Bullingdon Arms
2/07 Brighton - The Hope & Ruin
2/08 London - Moth Club
2/09 Cambridge - The Portland Arms
2/10 Liverpool - The Magnet
2/11 Manchester - Deaf Institute
2/14 Glasgow - Broadcast
2/15 Edinburgh - Sneaky Pete’s
2/16 Newcastle - The Cluny
2/17 Leeds - Brudenell Social Club

Friday, December 30, 2016

Stimulating Station Seeds

Here's a couple bands to set up stations on, in case you need music to get you to and through the New Year. Just remember, these stations are here for you as-is, no thumbs-up/favoriting needed!

Bob Moses:

These guys are a fun alt-electronic dance act, and in addition to getting all their great music, this station will take you on a musical journey from alt-J to Yeasayer. Glass Animals also show up on this station, and it's a great station to discover acts on the line between alternative and dance.

Twenty One Pilots:

I'm sure you've heard these guys on both rock and popular stations, but in addition to their great stuff, their stations take you through other bands like AWOLNATION, Panic at the Disco, and The Neighbourhood. There's also a pop side of this station that will give you softer acts like Vance Joy and Lukas Graham. If you like variety, this is a great band to build a station on.

Thought of the Week:

"Do what you feel in your heart to be right - for you'll be criticized anyway. You'll be damned if you do, and damned if you don't." - Eleanor Roosevelt

Friday's Song List

Here's your songs for the week - the last one of the year!
  1. Throwback Thursday Special:
Have a great New Year - 2016 can't end fast enough!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Friday's Song List

Another week, another few songs! Posting will be sporadic up to the New Year, but rest assured, we have a lot of things we're working on for you!
  1. Throwback Thursday Special:
I hope you have Happy Holidays and a great New Year!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Stimulating Station Seeds

In case you need some new music, here are a couple of seeds for you to start stations on your preferred streaming service:

Jess Glynne: If you're looking for a sound that is best described as "Adele with less pain, but a little more attitude," then she's your seed artist. 

Sometimes you just need to feel like an empowered woman ready to kick the world's ass. This station will make that happen with remixes, dance stations, and just straight up empowerment anthems. Ignore it at your peril.

Hamilton Leithauser+Rostam: And sometimes, you're looking for an indie sound that's indie-er than Vampire Weekend. For that, I give you Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam.

Their collaboration resulted in a sound that's somehow part-Vampire Weekend, part-Walkmen, but mostly their own thing. In addition to their awesome sound, this station brings in Vampire Weekend, The Walkmen, Hamilton Leithauser's solo work, ROSTAM's solo work, ROSTAM's other collaborations (like Ra Ra Riot, Solange, Frank Ocean, and so many others), and is a varied station that has so many different things going on in it.

Thought of the week:

"There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'" - Isaac Asimov

Monday, December 19, 2016

My Top 10 Albums of the Year

Music writing is a very personal endeavor, and the best you can do is to find someone whose tastes you share so you can then trust their opinion. As a consequence, music reviews - especially "best of" or "top albums" posts tend to tell you more about the writer than the music. With that being said, here's my top 10 albums of the year. Feel free to psychoanalyze what that says about me as you read through the list below.

I have ordered the list alphabetically by first name, and not in any sort of order to indicate an album hierarchy.

A Tribe Called Quest - We Got It From Here... Thank You 4 Your Service:

RIP Phife. This is hands down the second best album from this band... behind their Greatest Hits Album. They went out with their best work, and this album is so much more important than we thought it would be back when it was announced. "We The People..." is an anthem and a battlecry, and the rest of the album is a who's who of hip-hop - Kanye, Busta Rhymes, Kendrick Lamar, André 3000, Anderson .Paak, Talib Kweli, Consequence - and a who's who of music - Elton John, Jack White, Marsha Ambrosius - helping to push this album from "message" to "missive."

Don't forget to listen to "Dis Generation," and just enjoy Jarobi getting in on the action. Let it wash all over you. And then when you're good and angry, it's time to get to work.

Anderson .Paak - Malibu:

This album was released in January, and I'm really sad that I didn't hear about him until he killed it at the Soul Train awards. This is my punishment, because that's 11 months that I could have been listening to it that I didn't. The whole album is great, but "The Dreamer" has been on my "shit hot tracks I can't get off my mind" list for the last week. Listen, and you'll see why.

I know Anderson .Paak has been around the seams of hip-hop for a while, but I have to and will do better in the future on following and discovering new hip-hop.

Beyoncé - Lemonade:

There have been a million thinkpieces written on this album, but more of them focus on Beyoncé than the music, and damn the music is good. Anyone who doesn't think that Beyoncé could own ANY form of music needs to sit down and listen to this album. Again, and again, and again. I'd say to watch her CMA performance, but it looks like the racist country folks did a real good job of scrubbing it. "Daddy Lessons" was one hell of a country song, and the album included amazing collaborations with James Blake, Jack White, The Weeknd, and Kendrick Lamar. And just remember, she did all this without any input from Mr. Knowles. If she wanted, she could dominate the Pop, Rock, R&B, Electronic, and Country charts... JUST WITH THIS ALBUM, so here's "Formation," because why not.

Listen to the damn album. Just give into the fact that she's the Queen Bey, and we're all just lucky to be her peasants.

Bon Iver - 22, A Million:

My review has been unapologetically black so far, but you know, Justin Vernon was on Kanye's "Monster" track, so let's just go with that? This is an ambitious album, well worth the 5 year wait. From "For Emma, Forever Ago," to this album, Bon Iver has gone full experimental folk, and brought a richness and fullness to the sound that his previous songs have only hinted at. "22 (OVER S∞∞N)," pronounced 22 Over Soon, is an excellent first track, but it really is great all the way from opening track "22" to closer "Million."

This is an album to take in one song at a time, then one side at a time, then the whole album. I've listened to this album at least a dozen times, and I find something new in it every time.

Childish Gambino - Awaken, My Love!:

I hesitate to overuse the term "shit hot" in this review, but this entire album is "shit hot." This is Donald Glover's (Uncle Donald to some people at this blog) Mad Max: Fury Road, versus his Babe (Camp) and Happy Feet (Because the Internet). It's tough to pick just one track to feature, because this is an album: just sit back and listen. The lyrical difference between "Sweatpants" (a treasure from Because the Internet) and "Redbone" (an important piece of the treasure that is Awaken, My Love!) is an evolution that most artists never complete, let alone in 3 years.

Also, watch Atlanta, because that show is great. I'm excited for every single project that he's working on, and will keep watching and listening until he gives me a reason not to.

Drive-By Truckers - American Band:

This is one of the most political albums I have ever heard, and I love it. I thought Drive-By Truckers couldn't get better after Jason Isbell left, but it turns out him leaving was the best thing for both of them. Hell, he's like their Peter Gabriel and Genesis. I don't know how to put it other than that this is one of the biggest acts of musical courage since the Dixie Chicks, and the songs are damn good, too!

These guys are only going to get better, and I'm ready to keep listening to them and Jason Isbell go their separate, awesome musical paths. (As an aside, if you haven't listened to Jason Isbell's Southeastern and Something More Than Free, go listen. I'll wait.)

Fitz and the Tantrums - Fitz and the Tantrums:

I thought long and hard about including this one over some of the honorable mentions, but Fitz and the Tantrums were smart enough to wait until they had an album that deserved to be self-titled, and this is it. In addition to the endlessly catchy "Handclap," there are more gems on the record, and the meet-cute video for "Roll Up" enhances what is already a great song.

This is the very definition of a solid album. Go listen. It's pretty great for a living room dance party, too.

Leonard Cohen - You Want it Darker:

Musicians who know they're about to die - take note. This is how you write a love letter saying goodbye to your fans. I talked about this album earlier, and I'm not sure what else you can add: "You Want It Darker" is a perfect title track.

I'm just going to go with what I wrote before: "the title track is one of the weightiest songs you'll ever put into your ear-holes. He was ready to go, even if we weren't ready to lose him. It's our fault (or at least mine) for waiting until he was gone to listen to it."

Lin-Manuel Miranda and Friends - Hamilton Mixtape:

Because the original Hamilton cast recording was just so good, I was prepared to judge this harshly for being the pretty good Load on the heels of Metallica's Black Album, but then this blew me away. The Roots and Busta Rhymes on "My Shot," Queen Latifah's verse on "Satisfied," and Lin-Manuel Miranda's awesomely personal "Wrote My Way Out" were all phenomenal... and I'm not crying at Kelly Clarkson's "It's Quiet Uptown," YOU'RE CRYING. Andra Day slays "Burn," Wiz Khalifa owns "Washingtons By Your Side," and John Legend... is just John Legend. This album is so good that I'm barely mentioning the Roots, Ashanti, and Ja Rule! So just have all of it with the Album release Ham4Ham:

For my money, it doesn't get better than "Immigrants (We Get The Job Done)" with K'naan, Residente, Show Tha Product, and, as you'll see below, my newest crush, Riz MC.

Swet Shop Boys - Cashmere:

Heems and Riz MC just know how to spit it, but in addition to their flow and sound, this is a deeply personal album for me. Redhino's production is good, but just feeling the lyrics on T5, as a brown man who gets "randomly selected" at the airport all the time: "Oh no, we're in trouble/TSA always wanna burst my bubble/Always get a random check when I rock the stubble." Heems understands what it's like not to be Muslim and to be profiled, while Riz's face in the music video says almost as much as his lyrics. The entire video is a tribute to being brown in a white world, and, uh, about that psychoanalyzing thing I said above...

In addition to that, if you haven't seen "The Night Of" on HBO with Riz, you're missing out. Get this album, listen to it. Learn from it.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Bruce Springsteen - Chapter and Verse: He's still the Boss.
  • Bruno Mars - 24K Magic: So. Much. Fun.
  • David Bowie - Blackstar (RIP): Just a really, really, really good goodbye letter.
  • Explosions in the Sky - The Wilderness: Perfect rock symphonies for 45 minutes.
  • Frank Ocean - Blonde: This was the toughest omission for me.
  • Leslie Odom, Jr. - Simply Christmas: Dat voice doe.
  • Pentatonix - A Pentatonix Christmas: Doze voices doe.
  • Solange - A Seat at the Table: Almost knocked her sister out of my top 10.
  • Snarky Puppy - Culcha Vulcha: A really great album from a really good funky jazz band.
  • Sturgill Simpson - A Sailor's Guide to Earth: If Drive-By Truckers hadn't released their career work this year, Sturgill Simpson would have taken the alt-country spot above.
  • St. Paul and the Broken Bones - Sea of Noise: Does it show that I have a soft spot in my heart for Southern Rock?
  • Tedeschi Trucks Band - Let Me Get By: Does it show now?
  • The 1975 - I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It: It was a pain to capitalize the name correctly, but it just got edged out by Fitz and the Tantrums.
  • Viola Beach - Viola Beach (RIP) - Sadly, the entire band died in a car crash earlier this year, but their posthumous, self-titled album sounds like so much unrealized promise.

Just listen to all of this music, and get excited for the new stuff coming out next year!

'Til next time... keep on listening, keep on singing, and keep live music alive.