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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 – Foo Fighters – Concrete and Gold

We have some pretty big artists dropping albums this week, mixed in with a few up and comers.  I queued up 6 albums on my Spotify playlists to listen to.  I’ll start with the very talented songwriter/guitarist/vocalist St. Vincent’s 5th album “Masseduction” which I’m eager to listen to.  King Krule, aka Archy Marshall has dropped “The OOZ” and it’s getting a ton of positive buzz.  This London artist has been compared to Joe Strummer and Billy Bragg and can count Beyonce and Kanye West among his admirers. A collaboration album between indie “superstars” Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett titled “Lotta Sea Lice” is sure to feature plenty of understated guitar and interesting lyrics.  William Patrick Corgan (brainchild of The Smashing Pumpkins) has released his first proper solo album, “Ogilala”, produced by Rick Rubin.  I previewed this on NPR and it’s an interesting stripped down effort from him and worth checking out.  The next two albums I will listen to but not too hyped about.  Beck has finally released “Colors” but it’s getting negative buzz so far which is disappointing, but I will still listen for myself.  And Wu-Tang has a new album “The Saga Continues” but it comes with caveats.  Mathematics, the MC-turned-DJ who learned everything about production from RZA, has produced and co-written all 18 tracks on the album.  His production efforts are allegedly admirable but the verses the MCs have brought to the album are more on the mediocre side.  You will find Method Man, Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, Killa Priest, Redman, RZA and Capadonna on the album but they are not inspired.
Finally, you may not have heard the latest regarding Marilyn Manson (who I don’t like in any way, shape or form but I find this amusing).  On his latest tour, he fell off the stage in Pittsburgh allegedly breaking his ankle.  Then the next night in NYC, he had a giant stage prop fall on him, breaking his fibula in two places and requiring a plate and 10 screws and also a screw in his ankle.  He has since pushed his tour dates out and hasn’t played a show since.  So that’s all good, but now Manson is hinting that “God, whatever it might be” is trying to put a stop to things on his tour.  So evidently God is to blame for his misfortune.  If that’s actually true – then way to go God!
Oh, and a big thanks to Eminem for sharing his current political beliefs on a national stage – let’s continue to protect the all-important 1st amendment since the outdated 2nd amendment is unfortunately not going away soon.
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Dave Grohl is someone I admire in the music industry.  Loves to collaborate, seems to really enjoy being a musician, went from being the drummer in Nirvana to stepping out as the guitarist/vocalist in his band Foo Fighters, made an interesting movie about a recording studio “Sound City” – I’ve even read a book about his life.  I’m a major Nirvana fan, but the Foo Fighters I’ve always been more lukewarm about.  I have their first album, but no others.  I enjoy hearing a lot of their songs on the radio.  But at the end of the day, I never fully latched onto them.  Maybe it’s the uniformity of their sound, maybe Dave’s vocals, while certainly serviceable, are somewhat limited in their depth.  But for some reason, their latest album “Concrete and Gold” is resonating and sticking with me. 
Is it a great album?  No, the second half of the album has some tracks that while not bad, are merely ok.  But it’s a very enjoyable album to listen to all the way through.  The songs are sequenced well, and there’s enough variety in the music to keep you engaged.  Plus, it’s rare to find a solid straight rock album these days.  That type of music simply is not in vogue at the moment.  So what do I love about “Concrete and Gold”?  For starters, the first 5 songs are all very strong.  You can’t help but get pulled into the record when the first half is very stellar.  The opening short track “T-Shirt” starts very slow with Dave softly singing to a few guitar notes and then, bam, it immediately morphs into some seventies sounding huge rock recording – like a mix of Queen and REO Speedwagon – before fading out like the intro started.  Then the song “Run” (featured below) immediately follows.  Another soft opening before it slowly gains in intensity before guitars rain out and launch the song into another atmosphere.  Great track.  Then the next 3 songs are all outstanding (2 of them are featured below).  And they all have a very unique vibe/sound which why this album is fun to listen to.  And it’s not like the next six songs are bad, they just can’t keep up with the first half of the album. 
“Dirty Water” has an interesting very subdued initial 2:30 before it picks up into a pretty cool track for the last half.  “Arrows” is a mid-tempo rocker that has its moments but drags some in the first half.  “Happy Ever After” is a slower song that is serviceable but doesn’t stand out.  “Sunday Rain” goes on too long at over 6:00.  “The Line” sounds like your prototypical Foo Fighters song that could have appeared on any other album.  The album closes with the title track, which has some touches of Pink Floyd on it.  It’s an interesting experiment by the band and a cool way to close the album.  So that’s my summary – first half is incredible, second half is ok but altogether it’s a fun rock album to listen to, given the variation in the different tracks and the experimentation explored by the band.  Grohl has said that in order to begin writing the album, he sequestered himself in a cabin in Ojai, bought a case of wine and sat in his underwear with a microphone for five days just writing – inspired by what was going on in the country – politically, personally, as a father, American and a musician. 20+ years into the Foo Fighters, their 10th album is a solid addition to their discography.  Enough that I actually bought the cd, and wished I had bought tickets for their show in Richmond tomorrow night.  However tickets are now approaching $200 for not great seats so that will be a pass.  I was indifferent about seeing them before I listened to “Concrete and Gold”, which speaks to the impact of the new album.Image result for concrete and gold
La Dee Da – Probably my favorite song on the album right now, Grohl is fired up on this track.  I don’t know what he’s addressing, but I like to think it’s a message to Trump.  From the very beginning with that distorted bass, when the guitars kick in and Dave’s vocals – it’s a powerful combination.  Dave’s screaming vocals on the chorus add a lot to the song and make my throat hurt.  Background vocals added by Alison Mosshart (The Dead Weather & The Kills). – live version because why not?
Run – The first single from the album, which is a nice choice.  This song reminds me of what I’d like to do when I hear the latest about what’s going on in the White House.  But this song has it all, soft intro which deftly leads into a high tempo rocker.  There’s a nice contrast between the alternating harsh shouted vocals and Dave’s normal vocals.  The song jumps back and forth between high tempo and very high tempo which provides a bigger impact for both parts.
The Sky Is A Neighborhood – I picked this track over “Make It Right” since it showcases a slightly different tempo for the band.  This is a big epic song with a huge shout-a-long chorus. Grohl again tests the durability of his vocal chords during the verses.  Mosshart also provide backing vocals on this track.  The chorus may get stuck in your head for days.  can’t not post the coincidence of live versions of “Run” and “The Sky Is A Neighborhood” performed back-to-back in Berlin

Release Radar: Death From Above

New releases continue to blossom as September wraps up – this has definitely been the biggest release month of the year.  New releases I will be checking out include (there are 10!) the 4th album from J Roddy Walston & the Business “Destroyers of the Soft Life” who are now based in Richmond after starting in Tennessee and time in Baltimore.  This legendary live band is hoping to capture some of that appeal on record  for this effort they have a new producer and spent much more time in the studio than previously.  North London indie rockers Wolf Alice have completed their always difficult second album “Visions of a Life”.  Innovative alt-metal S.F. band Primus who formed over 30 years ago are unleashing “The Desaturating Seven”, a concept album based on an Italian children’s book about color-eating goblins.  German retro psych-rockers Kadavar are sharing their 4th proper studio album “Rough Times”.  Switching over to pop, there are a number of releases this week but the only one I may check out is Miley Cyrus “Younger Now” since I’ve gained some respect for her from The Voice.  Indie rock vocalist Torres, with influences from Cat Power and PJ Harvey is dropping her third album “Three Futures” which is worth checking out.  Winnipeg punk rockers Propagandhi are getting some positive buzz for their 8th album “Victory Lap”.  Detroit indie rock band Protomartyr are presenting their fourth album “Relatives in Descent” – I haven’t been able to get into this band in the past but I will continue to make an effort with this new release since they are so highly regarded by many others.  The last two new releases are probably the most polarizing – violent noise rockers Unsane are unleashing album #10 titled “Sterilize” and saxophonist Kamasi Washington, one of the leading progressive jazz musicians/composers is sharing a new EP “Harmony of Difference”.
Death From Above, formerly Death From Above 1979, have just released their 3rd album “Outrage! Is Now”.  If you’re not familiar with the duo, they infuse elements of punk, rock and dance music into their heavily distorted bass and drums sound.  Jesse Keeler handles the bass/synth duties while Sebastian Grainger mans the drums and delivers the vocals.  When their debut album came out in 2004 their unique high-powered sound made an immediate mark on the music scene and help them nab opening slots for high profile bands like Nine Inch Nails and Queens of the Stone Age.  The following year the duo released a remix album and then called it quits – primarily due to musical differences.  Keeler went more to the dance side, with his more recognized project being MSTRKRFT and Grainger attempted a solo career.  Five years later near the end of 2010 they reconnected personally and then a few months later in 2011 they announced that the band had re-formed.   Their comeback started at Coachella that year and they began to play more concerts over the next few years.  In 2014 they released their second album, which charted in the top 40.  That brings us to a few weeks ago when the band dropped album #3 and also dropped the “1979” from their name (I guess the previous issue with using the name “Death From Above” has been resolved).
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I’ve been a fan of this band since day 1 and this new album is no exception.  I jotted down six tracks to possibly highlight and there are only 10 on the album, which shows a very high quality of songs.  In fact, there’s not a song I don’t like on the record.  These guys are all about giant hooks, big sounds and mostly urgent vocals.  There’s an occasional piano or horn thrown in the mix, but mostly just drums and bass generating the  catchy cacophony.  That’s what sets these guys apart, they have hooks imbedded in their noise which I find to be a great mix of poppy bombast.  Royal Blood owes a large part of their current success to Death From Above.  When an album has such an immediate impact, I worry that I will quickly grow tired of it.  So far that hasn’t been the case with “Outrage! Is Now”.  In fact, I’m probably liking it even more after repeated listening.   So it’s difficult to pick just three songs to highlight from the album.  So I’m going to take three right from the middle of the album, tracks 5,6 and 7.  That also says a lot when the songs placed in the middle of the album can hold their own.
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Never Swim Alone – This track hits me in a visceral way, that riff is just in your face.  Since this is easily the shortest song on the album, it ensures you don’t get tired of it before it ends.  There’s really not a whole lot to the song, beyond the riff and the propulsive beat that drives it along.
Moonlight – The little interlude at the end of “Never Swim Alone” allows this song to kick in with a bigger impact than it normally would have.  This track sort of jitters along precariously, like a Jenga tower that could fall at any second.  But it keeps pulling it back together before continuing along again.  Maybe that’s the appeal?  I hear a little bit of Muse in this track.
Statues – Big-time hooks in this track.  Maybe a little glam-rock elements.  The sound is HUGE on this one.