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Showing posts from January, 2017

Memories - The Proper Ornaments

from the album Foxhole (2017)

The Proper Ornaments is a London band that crafts tight, well-considered songs that they "ornament" with tones and stylings reminiscent of some of the greatest rock bands.  In some ways this technique was perfected by Oasis, but The Proper Ornaments evolve the concept beyond a strict Beatles focus.

Case in point, the song Memories.  Each section of this song is beautiful in its simplicity and the collective arrangement creates a memorable soundscape ripe with moody minor chords and a downtempo vibe.

The song is then decorated with a Beatle-esque vibe enhanced by a Procol Harem keyboard track.  Any doubt that this is intentional is dismissed when the lyric "a whiter shade of grey" is sung just before the keyboard solo.  Kind of like Oasis singing "although the road was winding."

What I dog most about this song is the way the piano and acoustic guitar play off of each other.  The percussion of the piano couples with the janglin…

Bump Bump Babe - Wells Fargo

from the album Watch Out!!! (2017)

When you look back at political revolution over the past fifty years, you often find that rock and roll and other western music is leveraged to symbolize change in attitudes and a break from authority.

Such was the case in the days of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, as powerfully documented in the 2014 film Don't Think I've Forgotten, Cambodia's Lost Rock And Roll.

This month, the album Watch Out !!! by the band Wells Fargo was reissued.  Originally recorded and released in the late 1970's this music stood at the forefront of political change in Zimbabwe.

I particularly dig the song Bump Bump Babe because it is free of any political overtones.  Rather it is simply a funky R&B dance tune that hooks you and says in your mind long after the song has ended.

This is the sound of revolution...

Click Here to listen to Bump Bump Babe on SoundCloud.

Sastanàqqàm - Tinariwen

from the album Elwan (2017)

There are two things I did about Tinariwen:  their story and their sound.

Ibrahim Ag Alhabib was born in 1959, a member of the semi-nomadic Tuareg ethnic group that spanned across Saharan Africa.  At the age of four, he witnessed the execution of his rebel father in Mali.  By his late teens, he had primarily settled in Algeria and Libya.

By the time he was twenty, he was playing Chaabi (a musical genre common to Northern African weddings and festivals) and western rock music driven by artists like Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, as well as the reggae of Bob Marley.  It was here that he formed the band Kei Tinariwen (The Desert Boys) which serves as the foundation for today's band.

In 1980, the band members were conscripted into Khadafi's Libian Army.  Five years later, they switched sides to join the rebel movement in Libya.  At this time, Tinariwn began recording music and distributing it for free to anyone who provided them with a cassette.

Ultimat…

U'Huh - Sinkane

from the album Life & Livin' It (2017)

I am often reminded of Stevie Wonder's declaration in his classic song Sir Duke: "You can tell right away it's got the A when the people start to move."  Go ahead and test it for yourself.  Listen to the first few seconds of any Stevie song and see if you get hooked.  It is a great litmus test for a hit record.

On the song U'Huh, Brooklyn-based, African-born Sinkane takes establishes this formula and expands on it.  The opening drum introduction catches you and holds you.  Then, with each iteration of the central chord progression, a new hook is firmly placed.  Synthesizer.  Rhythm Guitar.  Vocal.  Backing Vocal.  Falsetto.  Each one building off the prior, reinforcing the hook.

This is a muscular approach to African Polyrhythms and layered production.  I dig it.

Click Here to watch the official music video to U'Huh.

Click Here to read my January 2013 blog post on the Sinkane tune Runnin'.

Gone, Gone, Gone - The Feelies

from the album In Between (2017)

Some great bands are like a coiled spring, ready to release.  Some are chain saws, others kaleidoscopes.

On the song Gone, Gone, Gone, The Feelies explode like a speeding motorcycle down a crowded NYC avenue, slicing in and out lanes, beating traffic thru that next green light.

For the musicians, it is all about the joy of the release and knowing that your bandmates are right there in step with you.  Whether it is a band, an army, or a team, it is all about these moments.

This song is uptempo, melodic, and a great addition for this spring's "rockin' down the highway" playlist.

Click Here to listen to Gone Gone Gone.

Get Out - Sallie Ford

from the album Soul Sick (2017)

Sallie Ford is a guitarist from Portland, Oregon.  She is gifted with songwriting, guitar playing, and vocal abilities.  Most notable - for me - is her ability to blow out a rock tune.

Such is the case with Get Out, one of the pre-release singles from her forthcoming album Soul Sick.  This song satisfies my always present need to crank the stereo and speed down the highway.

When you listen to this song, check out the songwriting, guitar playing, and vocals.  Also check out the drumming.

Click Here to listen to Get Out.

Riverview Fog - The Sadies

from the album Northern Passages (2017)

Lately, I have been losing myself in the song Riverview Fog by the great Canadian country rock band, The Sadies.

I've been reflecting mightily on the song's lyrics.  Lyrics can take many forms.  Some are proclamations, some tell stories, and others - like this song - are conversations.

Conversational lyrics often prove difficult in that the writer's audience is typically a singular person, requiring an exactness in the lyric.  When done with the utmost skill, that conversation resonates with others looking to have similar conversations, providing those listeners with just the right words.  Great songwriters like Bob Dylan and Stevie Wonder are masters of this.

The song Riverview Fog does a great job:

Hello old friend
I hope I didn't wake you
It's been a while
Since the last time that I saw you
But I know we will always look the same
Like April rain

Just checking in
Nothing much with me is new
But I'll check again
In another month o…

Utopia - Austra

from the album Future Politics (2017)

Austra are a synth-pop band from Toronto.  Their song Utopia has been in my regular rotation since the start of the year.

The opening notes of the song provide instant hooks with a melodic bass pattern, high register synth accent, and female backing vocals.  The tones and production evoke the '80s.  As the song evolves, this is further evoked by the strength of the beats and groove which are muscular yet polished.

From this foundation the lead vocals are able to flourish with an enviable balance between abrasive and ethereal.  They take form in many individual elements that intertwine in a fine arrangement to create a swirling effect that is the essence of dream pop.

The craftsmanship across all elements of this song is what keeps me coming back.  This is a quality record.

Click Here to watch the official video to Utopia.

Astral Plane - Valerie June

from the album The Order Of Time (2017)

Sometimes, it is a simple visual image that hooks me into a song.

Such is the case with Astral Plane, the latest single from singer-songwriter Valerie June, and the line "Dancing On The Astral Plane."

I imagine two lines of souls traversing the plane, one on their way towards being born and the other returning from death.  I imagine the newbies looking into the eyes of the recently departed for a clue of what awaits them.  Unlike the scenes of hollowed faces we have witnessed in too many war movies, Valerie June offers us the imagine of dancing.  Of happiness and joy.  With a single lyric she shows us that life is good.

This is powerful songwriting.

The performance is equally exquisite.  Soft and pure.  A little rootsy and little ethereal.  Melodic.

Valerie June grew up in a Memphis family that sang Gospel and R&B together, in the tradition of The Staples Singers.  The message in music of those raised in this environment is uplifti…

Ain't Nothing Changed - Loyle Carner

from the album Yesterday's Gone (2017)

I have had the opportunity to travel to the UK nearly a dozen times in the past five years.  Each trip is a musical journey filling me with new perspectives and attitudes.

I have come to realize that England is not a fountain of perpetual music, but rather a melting pot where the mixture is perpetually distilled to produce exquisite new sounds.  As a result, I have heard Appalachian Folk in Leicester, Northern Soul in York, and endless Ska Horn players in London Afro-beat bands.  All of it of the highest quality and all of it containing a uniquely British character.

One of the most intriguing of the genres in this musical meat grinder in hip-hop and rap.  It seems to me that the British approach is to sidestep some of the attitude associated with genre to focus on three elements: storytelling, beats, and soundscape.

Ain't Nothing Changed by Loyle Carner is a London rap tune that demonstrates the point.

The song opens to the soulful beauty …

Freedom Highway - Rhiannon Giddens

from the album Freedom Highway (2017)

Pops Staples was an American musical treasure.  Born in Winona, Mississippi in 1914, he was drawn to - and began sitting in with - the great musicians of that region in the pre-depression years.  These artists included Robert Johnson, Charlie Patton, and Son House.

In 1935, he and his wife moved to Chicago where they performed in various gospel bands.  Ultimately, they broke away and formed The Staple Singers together with their son and three daughters.  One early hit record was 1955's This May Be The Last Time, which became more widely known when covered ten years later by the young Rolling Stones.

The music of Pops Staples provides that critical bridge between Gospel music and Rhythm & Blues.  A listen to Staples Singers songs like I'll Take You There and Respect Yourself are testaments to this linkage and the greatness of Pops Staples as a songwriter.

Freedom Highway is a song written by Pops Staples in 1965 at the height if the Civi…

B.H.S. - Sleaford Mods

from the album English Tapas (2017)

Earlier this week, thirty-or-so friends of mine lost their jobs as part of a "workforce reduction."  The majority were fifty-somethings, many of whom had spent the better part of twenty years sacrificing for "the company."  We are all one big family, after all.

The motivation was not a response to an economic downturn, or anything of the sort.  It was the self-serving financial interests of the greedy and the mean.  As if they did not already have enough money sticking out their greasy little holes...

With that as a backdrop, I am really digging the song B.H.S. by Sleaford Mods.  The uptempo electronic beat, the tremble-heavy bass groove, the thick British accent in the lead vocals, the righteous indignation in the lyrics, the repeating of certain lyrics in a style reminiscent of Public Image Limited, the second vocal mirroring the first in a manner that evokes the Beastie Boys.  This is modern and fresh while in the finest tradi…

They Put A Body In The Bayou - The Orwells

from the album Terrible Human Beings (2017)

They Put A Body In The Bayou is a song that has really been resonating with me over the past few weeks.

It all starts with the opening feedback and crisp drumming that quickly gives way to rocking guitars.  This song is meant to be listened to at high volume.

Next I dig the verses and how they evoke a '90's alternative radio vibe with a pulsing bass line leading the way.

Then comes my favorite part, the lead vocals of Mario Cuomo - which to me have hint of Jim Morrison and Eric Burdon - and the Animals-inspired backing vocals.  These backing vocals strike me most, appealing to my psychedelic sensibilities without any of the gimmicks or superfluous tones.

This song shines by melding fifty years of rock music into a tight, concise three-minute song.  Hats off to The Orwells.

Click Here to watch the official video for They Put a Body in The Bayou.

Follow The Leader - Foxygen

from the album Hang (2017)

Foxygen is one of the bands I enjoy most.  With an encyclopedic arsenal of classic vibes and stylings,  every song is history lesson wrapped in hip, modern eclecticism.  How fun would it be to listen to old records with them?  Or to go into a studio and try to dial in groovy tones?

Listening to Follow The Leader is shear delight with its orchestration-laden, retro-soul vibe.  I would dig this song for the cheeky vocals and slick backing vocals alone, but there is so much more.  Every tone in this crazy-good arrangement is perfect.  Every listen unearths more to dig.

But better than all that is the bass guitar track.  It carries the song.  Funky and bouncy, full of great deep runs.

Hail Foxygen !!!

Click Here to watch the official video for Follow The Leader.

Click Here to read my February 2013 blog post on Foxygen's song Shuggie.

Click Here to read my September 2013 blog post on Foxygen's Jonathan Rado's solo song Hand In Mine.

Time To Get Alone - Zooey

from the album The Drifters (2017)

A cold winter's morning is the perfect time to stay inside, putz around, and groove to the warm, playful electro-pop of Zooey.

On their debut album, this London-based duo texture vocals, synths, and beats with a happy, positive vibe that keeps me smiling.

My favorite track is Time To Get Alone.  I dig how Marie Merlet and Matthieu Back's voices play off each other with a '70's sunshine.  I also dig the synthesizer tones and the use of "classic" preset effects.  This song is so damn catchy...

Click Here to watch a video for Time To Get Alone.

Redemption Song - Sly & Robbie & Dean Fraser

from the album Sly & Robbie Revisit Bob Marley (2017)

When Barack Obama was elected the President of the United States President in 2008, the music community celebrated in song.  Perhaps the best - and certainly my personal favorite - was Blackhouse (Paint The White House Black) by Amp Fiddler.  This record was produced by the incomparable Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare.  Its laid-back, urban vibe is perfectly counterbalanced by the bouncing, confident groove and sultry backing vocals.  It is a masterpiece.

So now, in the final days of the Obama presidency, Sly & Robbie have released a record revisiting some of their takes on famous and obscure Bob Marley tunes.  For me, this makes a statement that Bob Marley - and his musical message of freedom, justice, hope, love, and dignity - will stand the test of time taller and more iconically than the most accomplished of men.

The track that leads off this record is Redemption Song, perhaps the most sacred in the Bob Marley songboo…

Do You Still Love Me? - Ryan Adams

from the album Prisoner (2017)

Perhaps the most amazing consequence of music is our ability to associate an artist or a song with special people and moments in in our lives.

For me, this starts with my mother.  Just a few notes from Paul McCartney's song Uncle Albert - along with a bit of wine - will bring me to tears.

Then there are friends who died way too young.  Like Kenny, and the first time I heard the Ramones, playing Beat On the Brat over and over in our friend's basement.  It changed my life.  And my Caribbean college friend, Buzz, who turned me on to reggae music - trying to teach me to dance to the Bunny Wailer song Johnny Too Bad - and rolling on the floor hysterically at how silly I looked.

The Who, Bob Dylan, Sugar, you name it.  All artists that I associate with special friends.

But sometimes that connection is, well, cosmic.  I have a dearest friend whom I came to associate with certain Ryan Adams tunes, even though our paths had diverged long before Whiskeytow…

Meat Is Murder - Tim Cohen

from the album Luck Man (2017)

The first thing that caught my eye was the song title, Meat Is Murder.  Was it the next great Smith's cover?  No.  However, it is a really good tune - based on the PETA slogan - that I have been spinning ever since my first listen.

The song has a cool '80's vibe created by the straight drumming and pulsing bass pattern with distant guitar styling adding to the soundscape.  In the verses, Tim Cohen sings at the low end of his vocal register.  The effect created by the combination of bass and vocals provides a great hook for the listener.

In the chorus, Tim Cohen takes his vocal up towards the higher end of his register.  This makes the recurring mantra of "Meat is murder" really stand out.  I really dig how simple choices in technique can add such effect to a tune.

The end result is a most satisfying song that leaves me wanting to hear more.

Click Here to listen to Meat Is Murder.

Hard Drugs - SUSTO

from the album & I'm Fine Today (2017)

Hard Drugs by SUSTO is a song that connects with me on several levels.

This starts with the slightly-downtempo Americana vibe created by a lightly-strummed acoustic guitar, beautifully textured country piano, and a tight rhythm section.  In the rhythm section, the snare drum is possibly perfect while the bass guitar subliminally propels the band.  Collectively, this creates an inspired, well-suited soundscape for the crisp vocal performance.

The dynamics are excellent, full of little crescendos and breakdowns that fit effortlessly into the arrangement.

Most notably, the lyrics and how they blend brutal imagery with tender sentiments truly knock me out.  Hard drugs, dead bodies, exploding limbs, and blood-stained sheets are counterbalanced by the hook line:

I'm so glad that I found you
And sorry that I couldn't keep you around

The more I listen to this tune, the more I dig its simplicity, beauty, and humanity.

Click Here to listen to S…

Grease - Flo Morrissey & Matthew E. White

from the album Gentlewoman, Ruby Man (2017)

My passion for new music creates some torment in my personal life.

This mainly surrounds the six or seven large parties I throw every year.  You see, I am a bit obstinate in my party mixes, wanting to force people to listen to all the great new music I have discovered.  The problem is that unlike my funky friends - all of whom love being turned on to the latest tunes - many of my other friends are stuck in a time warp, listening exclusively to the music of their teens and twenties.

Case in point: My brother, who is convinced that Echo & The Bunnymen were the last band to make great music.  Dare to be different, dude.

I actually dig all kinds of great tunes from the last century and don't mind slipping them into the mix.  However, I have such an issue with the folks who are closed-minded about new music that I can't help but compel them to listen to it.

When I throw parties,  I am best rewarded when I see people using their Shazam…

Baby Teeth, Wolfy Teeth - Mick Harvey

from the album Intoxicated Women (2017)

Mick Harvey is an incredible musician, best known for his association with Nick Cave over the past 40 years as a member of The Bad Seeds, Birthday Party, and Boys Next Door.  More recently, he has been a major contributor to PJ Harvey records.

As a solo artist, he has been working on a series of four records that unfurl updated, english-language renditions of Serge Gainsbourg songs from he '60s and '70s.  This month marks the release of Intoxicated Women, the final record in the series.

The preview single - Baby Teeth, Wolfy Teeth - is the perfect way to kick-off the new year.  The symbolic "new year" imagery of a baby - coupled with the predatory image of the wolf - feels well suited for modern times.

It is also an appropriate kick-off by being an excellent tune.  "Mysteriouso" Pop over a rockin' beat, with a campy vibe and just enough reverb to hook me.

Mick Harvey and Serge Gainsbourg are both artists I plan to…