Artist Development

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…

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

Friday’s Release Radar – Greta Van Fleet

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Notable new releases this week are lean but here’s four to investigate – Girl Ray, comprised of three 19 year old girls who started playing together in high school 3 years ago (same North London high school where the Kinks formed), have released their debut LP “Earl Grey” which has an indie pop flair with a warm vintage sound and they combine many influences to create their own sound.  Randy Newman has released his first album in 9 years “Dark Matter” and he’s always worth checking out.  Dead Cross, comprised of Mike Patton (Faith No More), Dave Lombardo (Slayer) and two other guys have released their thrash-tinged S/T debut.  Finally Rope Sect, which is a German band with a subdued gothic punk sound have dropped “Personae Ingratae” and they have an interesting sound worth checking out.
I’m not going to pass on a rock band that can capture some of the vintage Led Zeppelin sound and energy and also put their own mark on their sound (I’ll take Led Zep over the Beatles any day).  Wolfmother and Rival Sons are two bands that immediately come to mind where the soul of Zeppelin is strong.  Now we also have Greta Van Fleet coming on the scene who also bring in a whole lot of Led Zep vibe.
Coming out of Frankenmuth, MI, these young whippersnappers have been playing together for over 4 years.  3 of the 4 members are brothers (twins Josh Kiska on vocals and Jake Kiska on guitar, younger brother Sam Kiska on bass and Daniel Wagner is behind the kit).  3 years ago they recorded a live EP, and Chevy latched onto “Standing On” for an Equinox ad.  The quartet then got signed to Lava Records.
This label helped them get a song “Highway Tune” on the Showtime series “Shameless” and this song also acts as the anchor for their debut EP “Black Smoke Rising”.  It’s only 4 tracks, but a ton of fun to listen to as Josh channels a young Robert Plant on vocals (luckily Plant is alive or there would be reincarnation talk).  Yes, there’s a lot of Led Zep in their 4 original songs, but they perform with so much enthusiasm and energy it keeps things fresh.  I’m sure these guys likely kill it live, so check this band out if they’re playing in your city at a local club.  It may be your chance in the future to say you saw these guys in a small club before they were playing stadiums.  I’m eager to see what Greta Van Fleet can do when they are ready to release their debut full-length album.  Check out the songs below and don’t be surprised if they put a smile on your face!  Special thanks to Braden for pointing this band out to me!
Highway Tune – Yes, similar guitar tone to Page, and then the Plant wail kicks in.  Man, these guys could be a killer Led Zeppelin cover band.  This song is short and sweet.
Safari Song – Another great Plant wail to kick off the song.  The 3 musicians have a good chemistry and seem pretty locked in on this song (the drummer is channeling Bonham here).
– live version – these guys can really play/sing (check out the drum solo 4 minutes in)
Black Smoke Rising – What do you know, the beginning of this song doesn’t sound just like Led Zep.  And Josh kicks up his register a bit so he sounds just a little bit unlike Plant.  This song is a little bit more slowed down than the first two.  If Great Van Fleet can get their sound a few more degrees away from Zeppelin, it will benefit them going forward.

School of Seven Bells

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The backstory on this album is a doozy…

School of Seven Bells formed back in 2007 when twin sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza from On!Air!Library! shared an opening bill for Interpol with Secret Machines and met Benjamin Curtis from Secret Machines. The trio eventually left their respective bands to form School of Seven Bells. They released some singles and their debut album “Alpinisms” came out in 2008. They had some success with their debut and by the time they released their second album two years later, it debuted in the Billboard Top 10 Electronic Albums chart. During that tour in 2010, Claudia left the band and her sister Alejandra and Curtis who had been a couple, broke up. That would be enough to end most bands, but no, the duo kept moving along. They released a third album in 2012 which also cracked the Top 10 Electronic Albums chart. Then early in 2013 Curtis announced he had lymphoma. By the end of the year, Curtis had passed away at the age of 35. A few months after that, Deheza released a School of Seven Bells cover of Joey Ramone’s “I Got Knocked Down (But I’ll Get Up)” that was recorded while Curtis was in the hospital. The two had remained very close friends after they stopped dating.

It turns out their 4th album was nearly finished around the time Curtis got sick. Deheza initially had no desire to finish the work to complete the album, she wasn’t in a good place and still grieving Curtis’ death. However, last year she moved out from NY to LA and started work on completing the album with producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen (who’s worked with Beck and M83). Even though “SVIIB” finally came out recently more than two years after Curtis’ death, he still played a prominent role since most of the work had been completed prior to his demise. In fact, only one track “Confusion” was written after his diagnosis, and it was the last song they worked on together. The album is all about Deheza and Curtis’s relationship. She had the intention from the beginning that she wanted to chronicle their time together. She never actually told Curtis this, but the songs trace the whole arc of their relationship. Deheza stated that during the time they had been working on the album it was one of the happiest times in their lives. That explains why there is so much joy and positivism in most of the tracks. The album stands well on its own given any context, but when you listen to it given what actually transpired it elevates everything up to a whole different level. This album serves as a celebration and remembrance of not only Curtis as a person, but of the decade both of them spent together and the influence they had on each other’s lives.

The three cuts below represent 33% of the album. I won’t tell you where they’re placed on the album, you can listen to the lyrics and see if you can guess for yourself (or just look up the track listing online if you need to know).

“On My Heart” – Classic electronic sound as this track starts up. Deheza’s vocals provide a great accompaniment to the music as waves of synthesizers pulse in the background of the verses. Her singing of “with me your love stays” is the main hook on this track, as it repeats over and over in the latter part of the song.

“Open Your Eyes” – I hear some elements of The Knife in the music part of this track. Knowing how this album transpired, the chorus tugs at the heart. Plus, it’s extremely catchy and it will get stuck in your head. This track is one of the few melancholic ones on the album.

“Signals” – This is hardest hitting cut on the album, showing more of a dance groove. Alejandra’s vocals take on a singing/rap cadence during the verses, hitting right on the beat. This song also features some majestic sounding synthesizers and some nice vocal processing during the choruses. You can also hear some elements of M83 in this song (no doubt from the producer).

New band of the week: White (No 54)

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The members of White already have some experience with success. The lead singer, Leo Condie, previously recorded an album way back in 2009 with Malcolm Ross of the Low Miffs. The track was entitled “The Man Who Took on Love and Won.” The other members of White were previously in a band called “Kassidy,” which was apparently a band that flopped quickly. Some critics say the band members were just too young to take the band seriously. But now just a year ago, they all became part of White with Leo Condie and are finally experiencing success for the first time.
White is currently growing in popular with both music streaming online and live performances around the world. They have already coming out with a second single called “Living Fiction,” which is set to be released at the end of the summer. A lot of fans wonder why the band members chose the name “White.” Even though it may seem a bit provocative, it is a reflection of the color of each band member. White has not released any kind of mission statement or particular direction they plan on going. They just want to make people dance and think about their songs and music. It is their dream to work with producers like Stuart Price and Brian Eno. In the meantime, they are trying to define their music the best they can. White keeps straddling between older-type music and more modern stuff. Music lovers of today have tastes for all kinds of music, whether it is the type that reminds them of the past or new age stuff. When you listen to them play it is like listening to a band from the 1980s that have modern day thoughts and ideas. We will definitely be seeing more of them in the future.

New Music: Ryan Adams

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A quick pre-holiday email this week…

Ryan Adams has been writing songs and playing in bands since he was 15 years old. His first band was a noisy, punk band, but he yearned to do something more melodic and he formed Whiskeytown when her was 20. Whiskeytown had great critical acclaim, but it was a tumultuous 5 year, 3 album run before they called it quits. Adams then went the solo route, with an alt-country sound and he earned immediate acclaim as well with his first solo album “Heartbreaker”. Adams has always been a prolific songwriter, he’s cranked out about 16 albums in 15 years as a solo artist. A year after his first album was released, he had written and recorded enough material for four albums. These 60 tracks were culled down to 13 for his second album “Demolition”. Adams continued to crank out albums over the years, and also starting working as a producer for other artists, including Fall Out Boy and Jenny Lewis.

This summer Adams announced he was recording and releasing a cover album of Taylor Swift’s “1989” (with her blessing). This album came out at the end of September. It’s an interesting experiment, pairing Swift the songwriter with Adams’ musicianship. He has an interesting take on her music, obviously with a different musical orientation. So I’m including a couple of his covers of big singles from Swift’s “1989”. If you’re intrigued, check out the entire album. Hopefully this endeavor nets Adams a few more fans who would have never listened to him otherwise.

“Blank Space” – Adams definitely takes on a melancholy sound on his take of “Blank Space”. I like his subdued approach and how he handles the chorus on this track. The sparse instrumentation, mostly his acoustic guitar, provide a very different backdrop than the original song.

“Style” – Adams brings everything up for this track, but with a different take than Swift’s. He does his own type of bombast, but it’s all guitars, bass and drums. He kind of sounds like another Adams on this track, Bryan Adams. I like what he did with this song though.

Floating Points: The Gorgeous Electronic Jazz Journey

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Floating Points, whose real name is Sam Shepherd, is known for being a great DJ. But he is also considered a different kind of DJ because he uses classical and jazz music instead of the common hip hop and rap. In fact, his first full length debut features a suite of songs that were all improvised and feature classical and jazz in them. If you are familiar with the works of Caribou and Four Tet then you will appreciate the meditative quality that comes from Shepherd’s music.
Floating Points new album “Elaenia” is said to contain songs with many different ideas and themes coming from them that the listener will always hear something new unraveled. Some might say this will make it difficult for listeners to stay committed to the music. However, they will be completely lost in the sound that it will wrap around them like a blanket.
The track called “Nespole” contains gradually intensifying saxophone sounds while there is a whole 10 minutes of freeform jazz, drums and flashes of strings. This combination of tunes creates music that is both romantic and suspenseful at the same time. As the listener keeps going forward to the next track in the album, each one will cleverly move into the next. This is even true in the middle of the chaotic final track of the album called “Peroration Six.” It contains a repetitive Middle C that sparks emotional feelings in the listener and keeps them listening right up until the very end.
Elaenia is actually the name of a beautiful little South American bird. Floating Points named the album Elaenia because the musical tracks are beautiful and impossible to keep contained in a cage. In other words, the music has such a powerful effect that it will touch the entire world and not just be confined to one type of music lover. That is why if you aren’t a fan of classical or jazz then you will still fall in love with the musical tracks on Elaenia. It has a special power to attract people and keep their attention right from the first track until the last.
Sam Shepherd is a young musician from the United Kingdom that has quickly made a name for himself throughout the world. He is not to be confused with the older playwright and Oscar nominated actor named Sam Shepherd, who recently got arrested on a DUI charge. The young musician Sam Shepherd likely goes by the name Floating Points in order to clearly stand out from the actor with the same name.

Decoding Lana Del Rey’s Lyrics, Apparently She Likes the Word ‘Daddy’

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Lana Del Rey is a young singer who has achieved a lot in her mere 30 years in this world. But what makes her songs so popular? Some people say it is her voice while others say it is the lyrics of her songs. Many people have tried to sort through the symbolism, references and overall meaning of her songs, and they all take away something different from it. But when you try to decode the lyrics of Lana Del Rey’s songs, you’ll notice that she likes to use the word “daddy” quite a bit.
The people from the website “The Verge” have decided to really examine Del Rey’s lyrics and get to the bottom of their meaning. They have already created a brilliant interactive map of all the words that she uses in her songs. What this interactive map has revealed is a connection between the words and phrases she uses the most. The word “daddy” can be heard in fifteen of her songs, while only three of her songs have the phrase “pale moonlight.” Do you think this has any significance or is this just some rumor trying to insinuate something about Del Rey? The true fans of Del Rey will tell you that her lyrics will have a different meaning for everybody. She probably didn’t intend on her lyrics ever being decoded by anybody. After all, she is not some music spy who is trying to deliver subliminal messages in her songs. Del Rey is just a talented singer who is singing from her heart. It is up to her fans and other music lovers to decide what those lyrics mean to them.
Lana Del Rey, formally known as Lizzie Grant, will be releasing her fourth studio album this month which is entitled “Honeymoon.” Fans of Del Rey are already praising the artist for this album based on the samples they have already heard. If you are interested in getting your copy of the album on disc or digital stream you can go to Amazon, or a number of other online retail outlets. Del Rey is bound to continue to produce entertaining songs that will bring her new fans while keeping her current fans. As for the “daddy” debate, it doesn’t really matter in the scheme of things. Many people that listen to songs care more about the beat and rhythm than the actual lyrics themselves. Those who are decoding her lyrics will eventually come to terms with that.