Release Radar: “New York” by St. Vincent – Kelly Lee Owens Remix

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Things are still going slow for new releases but a few albums to check out include a new release from Ron Gallo “Really Nice Guys”, good buzz for the debut album from melodic hardcore trio Closer “All This Will Be”, post-punk band Shopping are releasing “The Official Body” and evidently The Go! Team are releasing their 5th album “SEMICIRCLE” – I remember their debut in ’04 was pretty interesting but I had forgotten about them since then.  Also, The Shins have re-recorded their last album “Heartworms” and made the fast songs slow and the slow songs fast and titled it “The Worms Heart”.  If you’re a Shins fan you may want to check that out.
I didn’t really have any time to write a full post this week so I’m featuring one new remixed track to check out, since it features two artists that I’ve featured recently.  St. Vincent had the song “New York” remixed by Kelly Lee Owens and you can check out that interesting combination right here – (explicit).  Owens definitely clubs the song up, but keeps it all very chill.  She has a nice touch with the heavy bass sounds.

Release Radar: Kelly Lee Owens – New Album

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Happy New Year to everyone – here’s hoping 2018 brings as much good new music as last year!
First, check out the television debut of Julien Baker on Colbert this week.  I featured her several weeks back in an email.  Incredibly intimate and moving performance by her on a national stage –
Second, I’m still listening to a ton of new releases from last year – some that would now make my best of 2017 list (including the artist featured this week).  There’s so much music and so little time…
It’s still slow for new releases but two notable albums out this week – indie/punk/pop artist Jeff Rosenstock did a surprise release on New Year’s with “POST-“ (I featured his previous album at the beginning of last year) and black metal rockers Watain have unleashed “TRIDENT WOLF ECLIPSE” to the masses today.
This week I’m featuring an album I just got around listening to last week that would have definitely been on my list of best electronic albums last year, if not at the top of the list.  Kelly Lee Owens released her S/T debut album back in March.  I saw her name popping up on some “best of 2017” lists and I eventually got around to listening to her album.  I would describe her music as intimate atmospheric techno electronic dream pop (I know that’s a mouthful).  Her vocals are very interesting – they fit very well with her music and sound great throughout.  Sometimes they are used almost more as another instrument, but there are also tracks that are more lyrically focused.  This is an album that must be listened to with good headphones or speakers – her sounds create a mood and atmosphere – some of the sounds are almost tactile in nature – so it’s imperative you can properly hear all the details.  I listened to this album on a small Bluetooth speaker at one point and it just doesn’t work at all that way.  But if you can plug into some good headphones or speakers you will be more than pleasantly surprised.  Another thing I love about this album is it works great in the background, as well as with more detailed listening.  It also doesn’t hurt that I’m currently reading “1Q84” by Haruki Murakami and this album is perfect background music for that book (on a different note, I’m heavily impressed by Murakami’s writing so if you haven’t read any of his books definitely check him out). 
Owens was born in Wales and currently resides in London.  She was an intern at XL Recordings, played bass in a band and worked at a number of record shops, allowing her to soak up many influences and meet some other musicians and industry contacts.  She met Daniel Avery working at one store, who used Owens’ vocals on an EP and on several tracks on his follow-up LP, co-writing one song with her.  Owens self-released her first single as a solo artist in 2015.  This led to several more singles, some work with Jenny Hval, and then an EP in 2016.  As mentioned previously, Owens released her debut S/T album in March 2017.  She has received plenty of critical acclaim, showing up on many “best of 2017” lists, mostly for electronic albums but also just in general Top 50 album lists.  Her music is a little difficult to describe, and even within the same song Owens will sometimes mix up tempos/styles.  What stands out for me is the mood, sound and atmosphere her music provides.  For a debut album, she has produced a very accomplished album.  I’m eager to see what Kelly Lee Owens is able to produce going forward, given how accomplished her starting point is.  Below are a few tracks to check out, but I suggest listening through her entire album (also linked below).
“Evolution”  This track starts out with some rumbly bouncy beats and then a faster metronome kicks in.  Owens repeats “evolution” alternating between a hard and soft “e”.  Then the bass drops in about 50 seconds in, taking the track to a new level.  Owens effectively uses “drop” moments with the heavy bass at several points during the song.  Her vocals change from spoken, to singing, to whispering – all with great effect.  She also does a masterful job mixing in all of the different rhythms on this track.  All of these nuances are lost though, if you’re listening to the music with a cheap speaker.  You need to feel the music.
“Bird”  “Evolution” precedes “Bird” on the album.  On this track, Owens doesn’t provide any vocals.  Instead she deftly mixes in a number of sounds and rhythms to create a cohesive whole.  The beginning is a mix of strings, a xylophone-esque sound and the beats which eventually morph into a big bass drone about 1:45 into the song.  At that point, Owens just mixes the different sound elements in and out of the song.  About 3 minutes in she changes up the beats and brings in some different sounds before bringing it all back around again for the final minute. 
“Keep Walking” – Here’s a track that features more lyrical vocals by Owens so you can get a better feel for her vocals.  This song almost pulsates with soundwaves as it swirls inside your head.  Owens ethereal vocals match perfectly with the music on this track.  Again, you must listen to this track with good headphones/speakers or you will not “hear” everything that is going on in this track. 

Release Radar: LEGEND – Midnight Champion

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I’m more excited about the announcement of Jack White’s upcoming album in March than any new releases that came out this week, but there are two new albums I’ll check out on Spotify.  I had never heard of Anderson East before I saw him on a late night show this week, where he demonstrated interesting vocals and played with an accomplished backing band.  His new album “Encore” seems to have a little Van Morrison mixed with a retro southern soul sound.  This is his second album and could be a breakthrough for him.  The other release is from southern sludge metal band Corrosion of Conformity and their 10th album “No Cross No Crown” brings former vocalist Pepper Keenan back into the fold.
If you ever wished Depeche Mode was tougher and more aggressive while still maintaining a melodic touch, LEGEND may be the band for you.  Hailing from Iceland and comprised of Krummi Bjorgvinsson and Dori Bjornsson, this dynamic duo recently released their second album “Midnight Champion”.  Resembling most strongly elements from Depeche Mode, LEGEND also has a little Rammstein (without the bombast and German) and older Ministry creeping into their sound.  They are on an Icelandic record label, Artoffact Records, and I don’t think they are getting much attention here in the U.S..  This is unfortunate because I’m sure there’s a decent market for their music if more people were aware of it.  Krummi’s vocals work very well with the atmosphere they create, and he definitely has a little Dave Gahan influence in some of his singing.  If you’re not familiar with the bands mentioned above, LEGEND’s music has an electronic-rock sound, heavy on the atmosphere and mood.  Most of their songs take their time to unfold, these guys are not trying to pump out three minute long radio singles (only 2/10 songs are under 5:00 and the shortest is 4:47).  There are slower and faster songs, and some that mix in both elements.  Most telling, is most of their fans appear to have different “favorite” songs from “Midnight Champion”.  So there’s many different tracks that are resonating strongly with their fan base.  Finally, this album sounds like it was recorded with a ton of confidence.  The band sounds very assured throughout the record, like they accomplished exactly what they were hoping to do.  As you might imagine, it’s not easy pulling YouTube singles to share for LEGEND.  They do have a few individual songs I can share, but not necessarily the best assortment of tracks from the album.  Fortunately, I’m providing a link to the entire album so you can hear it in its entirety.  You can also listen to the album on Spotify or bandcamp.  “Adrift” and “Scars” are two of my favorite tracks which aren’t highlighted below.
Captive”  You can really feel the DM vibe on this track – I can totally imagine Gahan singing this song.  I like how they start the track out slower and then ramp up the drums/guitar bombast about 90 seconds in – that’s where it separates from a DM song.  Thesofter chorus with its synth lines is totally DM though.  The verses stand out on this track.  With more exposure, this could be a hit. 
Midnight Champion – This is more of a slow burner, with some interesting bass sounds/heavy synths gurgling in the background.  Halfway through everything is ratcheted up a notch with the big drums and the gurgling evolving into a roar.  The video is a little intensebut highlights gun control issues we have in the U.S. (intentionally or not).
Frostbite – This track starts off louder from the getgo, with booming drums and some interesting synth sounds.  It’s a very dramatic sounding songperfect track to capture the attention of some “teen angst” that I already get plenty of at home these days. 
Full album stream – This is the best route to take, if you have the time…

2017 Year End Extravaganza

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2017 stands out in a few ways for me – 1) the insanity that surrounds the Oval Office and the resulting comedy goldmine that has greatly benefited Stephen Colbert and John Oliver (as well as Alec Baldwin) – hey, the alternative to laughing is much less desirable.  I never thought I’d be embarrassed to be an American, but the alleged leader of the free world has made that happen.  2) my first full year living on the East Coast – “California Dreamin’” has taken on much greater significance now.  3) the East Coast couldn’t give a &$*# about any teams that play on the West Coast.  Fortunately, there was a wide variety of great music that came out this past year across all genres.  I found myself listening to music on a much wider scope than I typically have in the past.  Given that, it’s difficult to put together a top 20 or top 10 list of best albums from the past year.  It really matters what type of music you’re in the mood to listen to, and it seems pointless to compare a country western album to a hardcore release.  They exist at vastly different locations on the music spectrum.  So I’ve included some of my favorite albums from different genres below, and I’ve undoubtedly left some music out (and there’s a lot I still haven’t gotten around to listening to).  Some of this music I’ve written about and some hasn’t made it into my emails.  Happy Holidays and I wish everyone a wonderful 2018!
Hard Rock/Metal  Mastodon’s “Emperor of Sand” takes the top spot here (plus they even released a nice EP “Cold Dark Place” last year).  Other notable albums include:
Queens of the Stone Age “Villains”
Foo Fighters “Concrete and Gold”
Death From Above “Outrage! Is Now”
Greta Van Fleet “From The Fires
Living Colour “Shade”
At The Drive-In “”
The Midnight Ghost Train “Cypress Ave.”
Hardcore/Extreme Metal – Converge “The Dusk In Us” is a brilliant album and easily tops this list.  Other notable albums include:
Obituary “S/T”
Mutoid Man “War Moans”
All Pigs Must Die “Hostage Animal”
Unsane “Sterilize”
EXPANDER “Endless Computer”
Trapped Under Ice “Heatwave”
Instrumental – Sanhett “So Numb” but right behind are:
Ex Eye “S/T”
Elder “Reflections of a Floating World”
Ufomammut “8”
Alternative/Rock/Pop (this is broad)  J. Roddy Walston & The Business “Destroyers of the Soft Life due more to my overall love for the band but the album is very good.  Other notable releases this year include:
Lorde “Melodrama”
Wolf Alice “Visions Of A Life”
Ryan Adams “Prisoner”
Rainer Maria “S/T”
Ron Gallo “HEAVY META”
Waxahatchee “Out in the Storm”
Spoon “Hot Thoughts”
St. Vincent “Masseduction”
Quicksand “Interiors”
Sleigh Bells “Kid Kruschev”
Julien Baker “Turn Out the Lights”
Afghan Whigs “In Spades
Priests “Nothing Feels Natural”
Rap/R&B – Kendrick Lamar’s “DAMN.” stands head and shoulders above everything else. Other notable albums:
SZA “Ctrl” (I would write this album up but lyrics are so inappropriate)
Run The Jewels “RTJ3”
Jay-Z likely would have made the list but since he’s committed to Tidal, I haven’t heard his album at all…
Electronic – Fever Ray “Plunge” barely nudges to the top.  Other notable albums:
Jlin “Black Origami”
Ibeyi “Ash”
Sylvan Esso “What Now”
I’ll also include LCD Soundsystem’s “american dream” in this genre
Country  Chris Stapleton “From A Room: Volume 1 and 2” takes the top prize here.  Other notable albums:
Margo Price “All American Made”
Lee Ann Womack “The Lonely, the Lonesome & the Gone”
Best Soundtrack – Baby Driver
I Don’t Understand The Hype – King Krule “The OOZ”, Thundercat “Drunk“, Perfume Genius “No Shape”, Pallbearer “Heartless”, Moses Sumney “Aromanticism”
Concerts I saw in 2017 
Deafheaven (awesome waves of sound)
Red Hot Chili Peppers (finally – don’t know why it took this long!)
Pixies (first time seeing them live since I was in college)
Iron Maiden (another bucket list band, would have gotten into a fight if the other guy wasn’t so drunk)
Tool (another bucket list band)
Spoon (3rd time on a sweltering summer night front and center)
Hans Zimmer (my son is a huge fan of his soundtracks – this was actually a fun show)
Afghan Whigs (way underrated)
Queens of the Stone Age (Royal Blood was surprisingly good opening, new venue in D.C. on the river (Anthem) is very nice and luckily Homme didn’t kick me or anyone else)
J. Roddy Walston & The Business (since they’re local now, I will be seeing them play live whenever I can)
Converge (another bucket list band, and they brought it hard – probably best live drumming performance I’ve ever seen)
Fortunately these were all great shows.  And I already have tickets in 2018 for J. Roddy Walston & The Business, High on Fire, Spoon, St. Vincent and U2.
Finally, here’s a compilation of all the music that I shared in 2017 via these weekly emails (in chronological order).  Hopefully you were able to discover and enjoy some of it!
Steve Gunn – “Ancient Jules”, “Full Moon Tide”, “Night Wander”
Jeff Rosenstock – “Festival Song”, “Staring Out the Window at Your Old Apartment”, “We Begged 2 Explode”
Shamir – “Vegas”, “On The Regular”
Striker – “Phoenix Lights”, “Out For Blood”, “Too Late”
Pinegrove – “Old Friends”, “Cadmium”
Big Thief –  “Real Love”, “Masterpiece”, “Animals”
Ryan Adams – “Do You Still Love Me?”, “Haunted House”, “Breakdown”
Danny Brown – “Ain’t it Funny”, “Pneumonia”, “Tell Me What I Don’t Know”
Deafheaven – “Brought to the Water”, “Baby Blue”, “Gifts for the Earth”
Sleaford Mods – “B.H.S.”, “Moptop”, “Army Nights”
Spoon – “Hot Thoughts”, “Can I Sit Next to You”, “Do I Have to Talk You Into It”
Jesus & Mary Chain –   “All Things Pass”, “Presidici”, “Facing Up To The Facts”
Mastodon – “Show Yourself”, “Steambreather”, “Clandestiny”
Tennis – “Ladies Don’t Play Guitar”, “My Emotions Are Blinding”, “Baby Don’t Believe”
Sylvan Esso – “Radio”, “Die Young”, “Kick Jump Twist”
Red Hot Chili Peppers – “Dark Necessities”, “We Turn Red”, “The Getaway”
Afghan Whigs – “Oriole”, “Copernicus”, “The Spell”
Soundgarden – “Loud Love”, “Jesus Crist Pose”, “The Day I Tried To Live”, “Burden In My Hand”,  “I’m Going Hungry” by Temple of the Dog
Jlin – “Black Origami”, “Enigma”, “Kyanite”
Allah-Las – “No Voodoo”, “Tell Me (What’s On Your Mind), “Ela Navega”
Waxahatchee – “Never Been Wrong”, “No Question”, “Hear You”
Greta Van Fleet – “Highway Tune”, “Safari Song”, “Black Smoke Rising”
Ron Gallo – “Young Lady, You’re Scaring Me”, “Put the Kids to Bed”, “All the Punks are Domesticated”
Ranier Maria – “Suicides and Lazy Eyes”, “Lower Worlds”, “Possession”
Queens of the Stone Age –  “Feet Don’t Fail Me”, “The Way You Used To Do”, “Domesticated Animals”, “The Evil Has Landed”
Arcade Fire – “Everything Now”, “Signs of Life”, “Creature Comfort”
Sannhet – “So Numb”, “Sleep Well”, “Way Out”
Death From Above – “Never Swim Alone”, “Moonlight”, “Statues”
Miley Cyrus – “Love Someone”, “Younger Now”, “Thinkin”
Foo Fighters – “La Dee Da”, “Run”, “The Sky Is A Neighborhood”
Chris Stapleton – “Either Way”, “Second One To Know”, “Broken Halo”, “I Was Wrong”
J. Roddy Walston and The Business – “You Know Me Better”, “I Called You”, “Bleed Out”
St. Vincent – “Los Ageless”, “New York”, “Pills”, “Masseduction”
Julian Baker –  “Turn Out the Lights”, “Appointments”, “Sour Breath”, “Happy to Be Here”
Quicksand – “Illuminant”,  “Hyperion”, “Warm And Low”
Smithereens – “Blood And Roses”, “Only A Memory”, “A Girl Like You”, “Strangers When We Meet”

Remembering Pat DiNizio – The Smithereens

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Spotify compiles user stats at the end of the year, which is interesting to get a little insight into your listening habits.  Plus they also provide a custom playlist based on your favorite songs.  Anyway I mention this because I do listen to a lot of music and try to highlight some of the best material I come across in my weekly emails.  While Spotify is not the only source of music I listen to, it is a primary one.  According to Spotify this past year I listened to over 6K songs by over 1300 artists for almost 43K minutes.  I’ll save you on the math – that’s 716 hours or pretty much 30 full days.  So one entire month of the year was spent listening to music (thankfully I multitask).
Slow again with new releases as we sprint to the end of 2017.  Eminem has a new album with a lot of big names involved  Rick Rubin and Dr. Dre serving as executive producers and featuring appearances from Ed Sheeran, Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, Kehlani, X Ambassadors, P!nk and more – hopefully “Revival” is an entertaining listen.  N.E.R.D. have come out with a new S/T album after a seven year gap.  The trio of Pharrell, Chad Hugo and Shay Haley bring out guns that easily match or surpass Eminem’s cast – Rihanna, Future, Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean, Andre 3000 and once again Ed Sheeran contributed to the album, among others.
Who is Pat DiNizio?  Well, if you’re asking that question that’s exactly why I’m writing this.  DiNizio was the front man for The Smithereens and he passed away this week at the age of 62.  The Smithereens, though they had some success, were a greatly underrated band who wrote some terrific songs.  Most of their success happened in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s before they got lost in the grunge wave.  DiNizio was inspired to start his own band by Buddy Holly, after playing in several cover bands (including prog and metal).  He placed an ad in a NY paper looking for musicians who were influenced by Holly, Elvis Costello, The Clash and Nick Lowe.  He eventually came across 3 high school students in NJ who had played together in school.  Dennis Diken on drums, Jim Babjak on guitar and Mike Mesaros on bass.  This was back in 1980.  They released an EP that year that had moderate local success.  They spent the next 3 years playing in the NY/NJ area and then released a second EP in ’83.  It got some play on college radio and a positive review in Rolling Stone magazine, but they were still having problems growing their audience.  They spent the next two years traveling and playing on the road, opening up for established artists.  Now it was 1985, 5 years together and they were frustrated by their lack of progress.  Their demos were being ignored by record labels.  They finally got signed by Enigma and worked with producer Don Dixon to release their first LP “Especially For You” in 1986.  Thanks to more college airplay and an MTV played video for “Blood And Roses” the album was a moderate hit, almost cracking the Billboard Top 50.  This earned them a contract with Capitol.  Over a 5 year period The Smithereens released four excellent albums.  Most popular was album #3 “11”, due to a top 40 charting by “A Girl Like You” and earning the album gold status.  After 3 albums with Capitol, they moved over to RCA in ’94.  By then grunge had taken over and the band was no longer growing their fan base.  However, they had a sizeable cult following and toured throughout the ‘90s, while releasing a few compilation albums and one more with original material.  Once the 21st century rolled around, the band was still together, releasing compilations, live albums and even a holiday album.  They released tribute albums to the Beatles and The Who (I have a great live recording of them covering “The Seeker”).  In 2011, they released their final studio album and the first one with original songs in 11 years titled “Smithereens 2011”.
Even this year, The Smithereens were planning some tours.  Unfortunately DiNizio had some injuries and they had to be canceled.  They had a tour planned in January ’18, but now they’ll have to cancel their upcoming shows with Pat DiNizio’s passing.  Since he was the main songwriter, lead singer and guitarist for the band, it’s safe to say The Smithereens have also been put to rest.  But they have a terrific legacy and the type of music they played is timeless.  Some of their career highlights beyond what I mentioned previously include gold and platinum records, appearances on The Tonight Show, MTV Unplugged and Saturday Night Live. They spent 37 years together as a band, a huge accomplishment by itself.  In addition to his work with The Smithereens, DiNizio also released four solo albums and worked as a program director for XM Radio’s “Unsigned Channel”.  He also ran the grants program for Jim Beam Brands’ “Benefitting Emerging Artists in Music”. If you’re not familiar with The Smithereens or haven’t listened to them in 20 years, I suggest you go pull up some of their music.  Their debut album “Especially For You” is as good a place as any to start.  Here are a few songs below you should check out.
Blood And Roses – Probably my favorite song by this band, this was how I first became aware of The Smithereens.  Of their debut album “Especially For You”, this song features a killer bass line and a whole lot of melancholy.   
Only A Memory – The lead track and hit song from their second album “Green Thoughts”.  You’ll start to notice a theme of melancholy now, but that’s one of the things that made The Smithereens stand out.  Very well-crafted songs that have a twist of darker themes.  The Beatles going off to the darkside.
A Girl Like You – Again, the hit song placed as track #1, this time on their 3rd album “11”.  The guitars were cranked up a bit more on this album, the drums sounded louder.  The band and label were going for greater commercial success.
“Strangers When We Meet” – This was the very 1st track on their first album “Especially For You”.  Wanted to highlight a slightly softer side of the band.  There are some greater instrumental sections near the end of the song.

Release Rader: St. Vincent – Masseduction

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I have a lot of new music queued up this week starting with a new album/mini-album? from young Led Zep Michigan band Greta Van Fleet with “From The Fires” – interested to see where this young band is headed even though half the tracks are from their previous EP.  Noise/pop rockers Sleigh Bells also have a new 8 track mini-album out titled “Kid Kruschev” – always interested to hear what this band is working on.  The early music recorded by Minneapolis legends Husker Du was packaged together and released today – 69 tracks featured on “Savage Young Du” (I’m not bothering with the umlauts).  Yacht rock band Tennis have a new EP “We Can Die Happy”.   Hardcore legends Quicksand have a blistering new album out titled “Interiors”.  Up and coming indie rockers Bethlehem Steel have an excellent new release “Party Naked Forever”.  Finally, Royal Blood has a 2 track Spotify sessions out on Spotify which features a cover of “My Sharona” – worth a listen.
Annie Clark who records as St. Vincent dropped an excellent new album a few weeks ago titled “Masseduction”.  For those of you not familiar with her, she is a multi-talented musician/songwriter who incorporates rock, electronic, jazz and even classical touches into her music.  She has also recently dabbled in directing, finishing one segment of a horror anthology.  St. Vincent was born in Oklahoma but grew up in Dallas, TX.  The guitar prodigy started playing at the age of 12.  Her uncle is Tuck Andress, who played in a popular jazz duo Tuck & Patti.  She spent some time touring with his band while she was a teenager.  After high school, she attended the Berklee School of Music.  She recorded some EPs with fellow students while there, but eventually dropped out after 3 years to join the band Polyphonic Spree.  After two years with this band, she left to be part of Sufjan Stevens’ backing band.  It was at this point that she adopted the stage name of St. Vincent.  After a year with Stevens, she left to start her solo career.  Her initial solo album “Marry Me” was well-received by critics.  After she switched labels from Beggars Banquet to 4AD, her sophomore album “Actor” got even more attention.  Strong critical success and impressive live performances vaulted her from indie success to mainstream success.  After her 3rd album “Strange Mercy” came out in 2011, St. Vincent collaborated with David Byrne and they recorded an album that came out the following year.  She ended up touring with Byrne to support their album.  Her 4th album, which was S/T came out in early 2014 and she continued to evolve her sound and stage presence (including winning a Grammy for Best Alternative Album).  Using choreography and more electronics in her sound, she created a very unique musical experience and continued to build on her reputation.  That brings us to today, where she worked with Jack Antonoff who co-produced her current album “Masseduction”.  St. Vincent continues to innovate her sound.  She has a custom guitar she designed that is available for sale via Ernie Ball Music Man.  Her main intent was to make a lightweight guitar that could easily be played by either gender.  She also incorporates a lot of effects into her guitar playing, often it almost sounds like a synthesizer.  St. Vincent is composing some very interesting music, and coupled with her interesting stage presentation, her live performances can never be called pedestrian or repetitive.  I’m looking forward to seeing her when she’s playing here in March.  As her sound continues to evolve on “Masseduction”, you’ll hear bigger and poppier music but still containing plenty of complexity that becomes apparent over time.  There’s wistfulness, anxiety, desperation and even a little funk thrown into the album.  And you continue to pick up on new elements in these songs with repeated listening.  It’s an album definitely worth checking out.  Here are four tracks from “Masseduction”. (that’s not actually her photographed on the album cover if you were curious)
Los Ageless – Great song title – this track highlights some interesting sounds she gets from her guitar and features a memorable chorus “how could anybody have you, how could anybody have you and lose you, how could anybody have you and lose you and not lose their mind”.
New York (explicit) – One of the initial singles, I initially was a little indifferent about this track but it has definitely grown on me after hearing it a number of times.  One of the slower tracks on the album, it features some very nice vocals from St. Vincent and is more piano-focused.   
Pills (explicit) – One of the quirkiest songs on the album, it features a memorable and catchy chorus.  There are also some interesting sounds on this track.  Fitting statement about today’s society.  Plus some saxophone from Kamasi Washington at the end.
“Masseduction” – The title track features some prominent guitar licks from St. Vincent and once again, a memorable chorus.  This is an example of how she skillfully blends electronic sounds and her guitar into a cohesive piece of music. 

Release Radar: Julien Baker – Turn Out the Lights

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Sorry for that brief hiatus but I should have 3 additional emails before wrapping-up 2017.  Notable new releases this week include another new album from Chris Stapleton “From a Room: Vol. 2”, U2’s “Songs Of Experience”, death metal legends Morbid Angel may be back in form with “Kingdoms Disdained” and after a 15 yr break between records NY progressive hardcore band Glassjaw are unleashing “Material Control”.  Also, Taylor Swift’s “Reputation” is now available for streaming if you’re into her music and don’t want to buy it.
I’ve held off from featuring this artist for a little bit, for reasons I cannot fathom.  But Julien Baker’s sophomore album “Turn Out the Lights” blows me away in places, and you should definitely give her album a listen.  This young singer/songwriter from Memphis is a talent to be reckoned with.  Her music is soulful, stark and cathartic.  I hate to use the tortured artist cliché, but Baker’s struggle with depression definitely adds an impact to her writing and performance that likely couldn’t be duplicated without the influence of her personal demons.  Baker started playing in a band in high school, which she continued to perform in while she was in college (before dropping out).  But then she wrote a batch of songs that didn’t fit the bands rock-oriented vibe.  This spurred her to record her own solo album.  Baker recorded these songs at Richmond’s (VA) Spacebomb Studios and released them in 2015 with her “Sprained Ankle” album.  She had some very positive critical reviews and even charted in the top 25 on Billboard’s Heatseekers album chart.  She caught the interest of Matador Records, who put out her current album.  I think she has taken a big step forward on her new record.  This isn’t surprising since she was only 19 when she wrote her first album and is still just 22 years old.  Baker takes her music very seriously.  She has stated “Music is everything.  Evidence of the divine.  The possibility of man to be good.  The possibility of improving our surroundings and expressing ourselves.  All of these things are collapsed together in my mind.”   This seriousness permeates her songs and music.  Her sparse yet devastating ballads strike you with an impact that few artists are able to match.  Since her music is filled with sadness, doubts, self-destructive urges and frail mental health, it’s understandable that her audience relates to her in a deeply personal way.  Her fans thank her for putting their own traumas into words.  Baker’s song arrangements have grown by leaps and bounds compared to her first album.  I think this helps some of her songs to have an even bigger impact.  Even though Baker sings about really heavy feelings, her music in not too dark because there’s usually a layer of hope lying under the surface.  And Baker uses music as a coping mechanism – it’s her release.  Off stage she is not a brooding artist, and describes herself as silly and kind of a dorky person.  Baker deserves a lot of credit for going out on stage and exposing her vulnerability.  There are too many highlights to list on her album, again you should check it out on your own.  But here a few tracks to start with.
Turn Out the Lights – Just Baker and her guitar and some subtle background strings.  So simple and yet heavy.  When she belts out the chorus in the last minute, it’s such an effective, emotional and jarring moment.
Appointments – This song hits hard with just a hint of instrumentation.     
Sour Breath – I love how she repeats this line before the song wraps up – “The harder I swim the faster I sink” – could only find live version of this song
Happy to Be Here – “I heard there’s a fix for everything, then why then why then why then why not me?” – powerful in her delivery – again, only found live versions of this track

Release Radar – J. Roddy Waltson & The Business

Posted by | Show Reviews, Song Discovery, Uncategorized | No Comments
This week it’s really all about only one new release – Converge’s “The Dusk In Us”.  The legendary Massachusetts hardcore/metal/punk/touch of jazz band is not for most people since they are extreme all the way around.  But they feature incredible musicianship, thought-provoking lyrics and innovative song writing.  But vocalist Jacob Bannon is intense, so you will need to absorb those thought-provoking lyrics as they are passionately screamed into your ears.  This is album #10 for them and it’s been over 5 years since their last release.  The 4 members of Converge all also play in other bands, and guitarist Kurt Ballou is one of the most sought-out hardcore/metal producers in the industry. I’m such a fan of his work, I actually have a t-shirt with a photo of his GodCity studio located in Salem, MA.  There are no other notable releases worth pointing out this week, but if you’re curious I’ll be checking out new albums (with low expectations) from Gunn-Truscinski Duo, Blitzen Trapper, Tracy Bonham, 21 Savage, Kid Rock and Ty Dolla $ign.
If you read last week’s email, you may recall a comment I made about Chris Stapleton hypothetically destroying all other contestants on The Voice if he were to go on the show and sing “Either Way”.  Well lo and behold one of The Voice contestants decided to sing “Either Way” this week.  Unfortunately it didn’t work out for him, but he’s not Chris Stapleton (but he did a fine job – Blake just wanted to keep the other guy on his team because he was very unique).
I have written a piece about J. Roddy Walston & The Business before, but they have a new album out titled “Destroyers Of The Soft Life” and you should check it out.  This four-piece Southern rock band originally formed in Tennessee 15 years ago, but quickly relocated to Baltimore.  They initially had a few lineup changes, but have been steady lately with J. Roddy Walston on vocals/guitar/and the hardest rocking piano playing you’ll ever see, Billy Gordon on guitar, Logan Davis on bass and Steve Colmus behind the kit.  These guys have developed a huge live following, because 1) they have some great songs to play live and 2) J. Roddy Walston is a formidable presence on stage.  I’ve never seen anyone headbang playing the piano like he does.  Check out some live performance clips on YouTube to see it for yourself.  Anyway, this is just the band’s 4th proper album, and it appears that they are gunning for more commercial success with this release.  The songs are less raw and are more polished and radio-friendly.  So you lose a little of the rawness/excitement factor, but they could gain an even bigger audience.  J. Roddy Walston moved to Richmond, VA since their previous album was released (his wife is from the area).  He and the band built their own recording studio in Richmond, where they worked on “Destroyers Of The Soft Life”.  This local connection is personally nice for me because the band frequently plays in Richmond.  In fact, Thanksgiving weekend they have a 3 night stand at a local club and I’m dragging my wife, son, sister-in-law and nephew to one of the shows – promising them an entertaining evening.  The band has their own unique sound, but you’ll hear elements of My Morning Jacket, Kings of Leon and The Band.  When trying to select songs to highlight from the album, I realized I had marked 8/10 tracks on the album.  So yeah, to say the least it’s a strong album (I can’t remember ever having that many songs from an album to draw from).  And none of these below are even the initial singles from the album.  At the very least, when they come around to a venue near you, go check them out.  You will be entertained.
You Know Me Better – The lead track on the new album, and this song sounds most like their older material.  Maybe that’s the reason it’s my early favorite song on the album.  Plus I’m sure this is going to be terrific live.
I Called You – The band does have a slower, softer side and this track is one example of that.  This is also an example of a more carefully crafted song that is an attempt to broaden their fan base.  Nice use of a big drum sound to really boost the choruses.   
Bleed Out – And here’s a mid-tempo example, but the chorus is massive.  J. Roddy puts everything he has behind the vocals on this track.
If you can’t be bothered to do a search on YouTube to see a performance video, here are a couple of live clips: – “Take It As It Comes” – “Don’t Break The Needle”

Release Radar: Sannhet – So Numb

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The onslaught of new releases continues this week – Sept. is crushing it!  While I’m not excited by this release, my curiosity will get the best of me hoping that the Foo Fighters change things up a bit with their new album “Concrete and Gold”, I have to respect Myrkur for attempting to play black metal as a solo female in a genre that is completely male-dominated so I’ll check out her second LP “Mareridt”, lo-fi pretty strange pop artist Ariel Pink has a new album “Dedicated to Bobby Jameson” which I plan to check out if only to see how well his drugs were working while recording this album, underground hip-hop duo The Cool Kids are releasing what they are calling their first LP (even though it’s their second) titled “Special Edition Grandmaster Deluxe”, Rostam is releasing his first solo LP “Half-Light” after being a member of Vampire Weekend and collaborating with many other artists on their recent albums, Prophets of Rage, comprised of the instrumentalists in RATM and Chuck D. and B Real on the mic have released their first LP which is S/T, Austrian death/black metal band Belphegor are releasing their 11th album “Totenritual”, The Contortionist’s 4th progressive rock LP “Clairvoyant” is out today and finally just for the title alone I must mention the new release from technical/death metal band Gigan “Undulating Waves Of Rainbiotic Iridescence”.
I also must mention the passing of Grant Hart this week after a battle with cancer.  He’s most notable for his work with legendary band Husker Du as their drummer/songwriter/vocalist.  If you’re not familiar with Husker Du, then you have some homework to do over the weekend.
I’m assuming most of you haven’t heard the band I’m featuring this week – the three piece instrumental band out of Brooklyn who call themselves Sannhet.  It’s a little difficult to describe their atmospheric sound, but it’s a mix of post-metal, sludge and black metal that is more accessible once you remove the vocals.  Without the screaming, wailing or guttural vocals mixed in the sound, I think a lot of people who don’t normally listen to this type of music may find it intriguing.  Sannhet is composed of guitarist John Refano, bassist AJ Annunziata and drummer Christopher Todd.  They first formed in 2010 and made a name for themselves with their intense live sets – not only instrumentally but also visually.  They released their first album in 2013, followed by a couple of EP’s.  Their second album came out in 2015. 
Most recently (in August), they released their 3rd LP titled “So Numb”.  On this most recent release, the post-rock elements take on a larger influence while the black metal and sludge take a back seat.  They have evolved their sound to a point where it’s become their own and not stereotyped by any genres.  Sannhet’s music on their latest album provides a lot of emotional moments and is defined more by feelings or moods than the specific music they are playing.  This is some of the best instrumental music I’ve heard since the Russian Circles album “Guidance” they released last year.  I’ve included a few songs to check out below – unbelievable how few views the first two currently have.
Image result for sannhet so numb
So Numb – The title track jumps right into things.  This is a more upbeat and faster tempo track.  Regano’s guitar provides the atmosphere on this song, while the drums and bass rumble along locked in together.  The song builds in intensity as it unfolds and then winds down a little in the middle before building back up again.  I hear some elements of Deafheaven.  My favorite part is near the end when a second guitar comes chugging in to help close it out.
Sleep Well – This track gives off a more anxious vibe, spurred mostly by the guitar.  The rhythm section provides a heavy beat which propels the song forward.  Don’t listen to this if you’re running late for something, it will only make the situation more manic. 
Way Out – This track actually got a promo video from their label, Profound Lore, so the views have actually reached 5 digits instead of 3.  Distorted bass drives this song forward, as the whole band is locked in tight.  Regano’s guitar almost takes on the sound of a synthesizer – a ton of atmospheric sound coming from his amps.  The band takes the song down almost to a standstill before breaking back out for a frantic ending.

Release Radar – Arcade Fire: Everything Now

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What an outstanding and eclectic collection of new releases this week!  What should be considered a legendary band, the under-appreciated Living Colour release their 6th studio album “Shade” today (this is the music I went to first to hear)San Francisco indie-rockers Deerhoof are presenting their 15th album in 20 years“Mountain Moves”, laughing at Deerhoof’s longevity, L.A. experimental synth band Sparks celebrate the 46thanniversary of their first album release with the new LP “Hippopotamus”, speaking of longevity, Neil Younghas a collection of solo acoustic recordings from ’76 out today with “Hitchhiker” (sounds great btw), laid back singer/songwriter Jack Johnson’s 7th album is out today “All the Light Above It Too”, one of my favorite two person bands Death From Above (now minus the “1979”) unleash their 3rd album “Outrage! Is Now”,Canadian indie noise-pop band Alvvays have upped their game on their sophomore album “Antisocialites” and last but not least The National attempt to inject a few welcomed raucous sounds into their 7th album “Sleep Well Beast” to hopefully ensure they don’t become solely featured as background music at hipster dinner parties. 
Ok, I’m featuring the latest album from Arcade Fire this week, “Everything Now”.  I hesitated, thinking this band is popular enough that everyone is probably familiar with them.  But in actuality, I’m guessing many of you may not have listened to much of this band.  And if you have, their sound has been changing quite a lot over their last few albums.  First formed back in 2003 in Montreal, Arcade Fire has evolved from indie rock royalty into mainstream popularity over the course of their 5 studio albums.  And that journey is one that is bound to leave some fans behind, since indie darlings finding commercial success is a sure way to cause some divisiveness.  The band has an interesting beginning – Win Butler (bandleader/singer) spotted Regine Chassagne singing jazz at an art exhibit.  He was charmed, they started a songwriting partnership and then a personal partnership (and eventually marriage).

They then recruited other members for their new band, including Win’s younger brother William.  Since the band members had many eclectic tastes, these different influences were incorporated into their music.  So you had bossa nova, punk, French chanson and pop influencing their sound.  You can hear elements of U2, David Bowie, Talking Heads and other influences.  After cutting an EP, they signed with Merge Records. 
The band unfortunately had a run of deaths unfold prior to recording their first LP – four members had relatives pass.  These deaths sparked their first album aptly titled “Funeral”.  “Funeral” blew-up from a critical perspective which also led to some commercial success.  Arcade Fire played Lollapalooza, Coachella and everywhere in between.
They made the Canadian cover of Time magazine and received a Grammy nomination for best alternative album.  They toured with U2 and counted David Bowie as one of their fans.  For their follow-up, they camped in a church outside of Montreal and recorded “Neon Bible”, which featured a pipe organ, military choir and a full orchestra. 
This album peaked at #2 on the charts and they continued to tour relentlessly.  They put on a great live show, so all of their touring definitely continued to grow their fan base.  Record #3, “The Suburbs”, with its themes of suburban sprawl, childhood memories and middle-class dreams led to #1 charting positions in the U.S. and U.K.  The band also earned many rewards, including a Grammy for album of the year.  They were now selling out shows all around the globe.  For album #4 (a double album), “Reflektor”, they brought on James Murphy (LCD Soundsystem) to produce.  This was more dance-oriented and brought in a lot of world music sounds.  After another ambitious world tour, that brings us to today and their most recent album “Everything Now”.
This album has been the least critically-received of any of their albums to date.  But I think that’s to be expected, given where the band is today.  Once you reach the level of popularity Arcade Fire is at, there are many people waiting to take you down.  Also, if you change your sound up, you always run the risk of people being disappointed because they liked your old sound better. 
Now the album isn’t getting completely panned, there are plenty of stellar reviews mixed in with the naysayers – there are just more naysayers than in the past.  Personally, I really enjoy this album. I understand what the band was trying to accomplish and I like the overlying themes of the album which are statements about today’s society. 
There are songs that reflect the demands for wanting everything right here, right now, wanting to be famous (or at least have a big social media presence) or life’s not worth living, not knowing what you want but wanting everything anyway, access to infinite content, and finding meaning in today’s world. 
The band brought in multiple producers including Thomas Bangalter (Daft Punk), Geoff Barrow (Portishead), Steve Mackey (Pulp) and longtime collaborator Markus Dravs.  The album definitely has a solid groove and danceability that is continued from “Reflektor”.  There is less of a world music influence and more of a disco vibe going on.  Maybe this is an element that turned some off?  Maybe it’s the themes the band is tackling – too big in scope?  Any critique on modern-day society is going to have its naysayers. 
At the end of the day, I think many critics just wanted something to complain about regarding Arcade Fire, because the band is too big now to meet everyone’s objectives.  If they were a new band and they released “Everything Now”, it would have created an unbelievable positive buzz in the music world.  But we all know that is not the case, and the resulting critiques are what they are.
At any rate, Arcade Fire have their 3rd #1 album and a solid addition to their catalog.  I say just enjoy the album for what it is – a solid piece of pop music making a statement about some of the themes going on in today’s society that can also be fun to dance to.  Here are 3 of my favorite songs from “Everything Now” that all appear at the beginning of the album. 
Everything Now – The lead track and single from the album, this song has a joyful sound.  I think this is a good example of some past elements of the band’s music evolving into their current sound.  Produced by Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter, this song sounds great.  Listen to all of the different instruments that are incorporated throughout this track.
Signs of Life – You definitely hear the disco influence on this track.  Also produced by Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter.  I like the chorus on this song – “looking for signs of life every night, there’s no signs of life, so we’ll do it again”.  This song has a little bit darker feel, with the prominent bass and slightly ominous synths.  They may have been influenced by previous producer James Murphy on this song.  Nice handclaps at the beginning. 
Creature Comfort – The track rounds out the first 3 on the album (not counting the intro at the very beginning).  Interesting note, the album was recorded so the ending rolls right into the beginning intro.  So if you listen on repeat, there will be no break in the flow.  My favorite lyric “God just make me famous and if you can’t, just make it painless”.  I’m hearing a big Talking Heads influence on this track.  Chassagne’s background vocals are a great contrast.  Geoff Barrow from Portishead produced this track.  Interestingly I don’t hear Portishead at all, but I do like the production on the song.