Wednesday, August 31, 2011

new songs for August 31st, 2011

7 songs!! Just in time for going back to school/work! Here they are:

"Behold the Hurricane" by The Horrible Crowes: The title of this song is scarily apt for having come out during hurricane season!! And no, this band has nothing to do with The Black Crowes (despite the intentional misspelling of the word "crows" for each band). It is, in fact, a side project of Brian Fallon, the lead vocalist from the Springsteen-meets-The-Clash-ish indie group The Gaslight Anthem. The Horrible Crowes' debut single, "Behold the Hurricane", does a good job of retaining the roots-y, working class punk sound The Gaslight Anthem typically have, though its heavy use of arpeggiation and how it centers almost entirely around an A major chord (capoed at the first fret) tend to differ from the rougher, barre chord based sound of The Gaslight Anthem. The song's chorus, "I age by years and the mention of your name", sounds anthemic enough both within the context of the song and just as words by themselves that it sounds like something The Boss himself could have written and/or performed!

"Even If I Don't" by Rachael Yamagata: Funny how I was JUST reviewing a song from Rachael's latest CD two weeks ago. I guess people just weren't ready for the unusually dark sounds of "Starlight", so now we have the more pop-y sounding (but still compassionate and earnest) "Even If I Don't", which sounds like a slightly more upbeat version of one of Tori Amos or Fiona Apple's songs, and is also reaching more radio stations than "Starlight" has. The lyrics sound like they were written out of heartbreak, as Rachael's songs typically do, and her smoky, world weary vocals deliver the lyrics convincingly. This is a good song, but I don't know why "Starlight" ended up being a dud. Perhaps because people prefer the tinkly, Regina Spektor-ish piano sounds of this song to the dark alt-rock guitars of "Starlight". What can I say, can't blame 'em, as the piano in "Even If I Don't" is one of the central features of the song!

"Lucky Now" by Ryan Adams: This is one of the new releases I was really excited about hearing! Ryan is like a modern day Neil Young, meandering between somber, folk-y ballads and energetic but passionate alt-rock numbers, so it's always an adventure for my ears to know where he's gonna go next! "Lucky Now" is of the former category, a slow, bittersweet, folk influenced song. Perhaps he just wanted a break from the excitement of having a backing band (The Cardinals), so this song is mostly just Ryan and his acoustic, with some electric and faint traces of percussion added towards the middle of the song. The melancholy but heartfelt emotions this song gives off are also a perfect way of starting off the autumn season (even though it won't actually be occurring until around 3 weeks from now). So "Lucky Now" isn't as thrilling as I would've hoped, but it is one of those songs that tugs at the ol' heartstrings, and there's nothing wrong with that!

"Santa Fe" by Beirut: Never thought this band would ever make it even remotely big on adult alt radio stations, as they always seemed to be one of those "obscure among the obscure" kind of bands (though they DID have "cult favorite" songs among their audience, like "Elephant Gun" and "Postcards From Italy"), but now my expectations of Beirut have changed! It is a bit surprising that what could become Beirut's biggest hit to date only has three chords, is more keyboard dominated than guitar dominated, and lifts its chords directly from the chorus of The Grateful Dead's only Top 40 hit, "Touch of Grey". Perhaps the sparse, quirky minimalism of "Santa Fe" is what makes it worth listening to, though, almost as though Beirut could be viewed as a modern day version of Talking Heads. For all the weirdness "Santa Fe" has to offer, though, it's also a very catchy song!

"She Walks the Night" by Matthew Sweet: Matthew Sweet is an artist that typically lives up to his (last) name. His songs (or, in some cases, just his melodies and harmonies) are usually just so...well...sweet!! Bands like The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Byrds, and Big Star (or, "the four B's", as I like to call them) are obvious influences on nearly all of Matthew Sweet's music. Some of his rougher edged songs, like "Girlfriend" and "Sick of Myself" became alt-rock radio hits in the '90s, but he faded into the distance almost as quickly until somewhere around the late '00s when he released a series of two CD's consisting of cover songs he dueted on with The Bangles' Susanna Hoffs. Since Matthew Sweet hasn't released any original material (to my knowledge) since 1995, "She Walks the Night" is a well-deserved comeback for the '90s power pop icon! It has all the best elements of Sweet's mellower material, including richly layered harmonies, Byrds-y guitar distortion, and catchy, memorable hooks. Highly recommend this one!!

"We Are the Tide" by Blind Pilot: The rise of "bluegrass rock" has already made a big splash in the 2010's with Mumford and Sons, The Avett Brothers, and The Civil Wars. With Blind Pilot, the return of happy, pleasant, buoyant folk-pop will hopefully make a big impact, too! Bands like Good Old War and Gomez have already become known for this (though Gomez are a bit more eclectic than that), so I don't think my expectations for this are too far off! One of the neatest things about "We Are the Tide" isn't just its sound, but also the wide range of instruments used in the song! The acoustic guitar, as many of you reading have probably guessed, is at the center of the song, but the muted trumpets used in the chorus make "We Are the Tide" all the more lively and uplifting, and the barely audible (but still important) string section in the background also makes this song pure ear candy!

"What the Water Gave Me" by Florence and The Machine: In the alt/indie world, it seems like people just can't get enough of those feisty, foxy females!! Feist's latest release was heavily anticipated two weeks ago, and this time around, redheaded cutie Florence Welch is all the rage compared to the rest of the songs/artists reviewed this week! It's a bit surprising that after only about a year of being known, Florence and The Machine have ALREADY decided to release a sophomore CD!! But I guess they were just that popular! "What the Water Gave Me" is a slight departure from the bouncy, harp dominated indie-pop of most of the songs on Florence and The Machine's previous CD, but still very much a gem to listen to! It almost seems like the type of song that another quirky queen of fashion and music, Bjork, might have done, with its psychedelic but icy sound! At 5 minutes and 33 seconds, "What the Water Gave Me" could just be the most adventurous song Florence and The Machine have delved into so far! Looking forward to knowing what they'll come out with next!!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

new songs for August 24th, 2011

here they are:

"Called Out In the Dark" by Snow Patrol: Though typically thought of as the Irish equivalent of the mopey British alt-pop of bands like Coldplay, Snow Patrol are really so much more than that! Their latest song, "Called Out In the Dark", is definitely proof that Snow Patrol are not your average European "mope rock" band. The flashy, new wave-y keyboards used during most of the song seem to give the impression that Gary Lightbody and co might have been listening to bands like The Killers. Snow Patrol already seemed to take their listeners by surprise with their more crunchy, somewhat hard-rock influenced songs like "Hands Open" and "Take Back the City", but "Called Out In the Dark" adds a whole new dimension to the band that I don't think any of their fans (including me) would have ever expected - new wave!!

"Go Outside" by The Cults: Not to be confused with the similarly named '80s hard rock/proto-grunge band, The Cult. The Cults are pretty much the opposite of that, actually, with the cutesy, almost childlike, irresistibly charming sound of their first big song, "Go Outside", which has already gained attention through TV commercials! Even the lyrics of the chorus ("I-I-ee-yi really wanna go outside") sound like they could be part of a children's song, in terms of both the naivete of the lyrics and the sweet, innocent sound of the song itself. With all the various indie bands that have made guest appearances on the children's show "Yo Gabba Gabba", The Cults seem like they would make the PERFECT guests! (At least with the impression they have left me with this song). Highly recommend this one, as I'm a total sucker for indie songs with an innocent sound like this one!!

"In Our Own Time" by Lindsey Buckingham: Is it just me, or do I sense a Fleetwood Mac reunion coming soon?! Fleetwood Mac's leading lady Stevie Nicks released a new CD earlier this year, and now, in the second half of 2011, their guitarist Lindsey Buckingham has released HIS latest CD!! Where Stevie got off on her soothingly seductive charm for her latest batch of tunes, Lindsey's vehicle for attention is clearly his guitar!! "In Our Own Time" showcases some of the finest work on the instrument Lindsey has ever done, and almost comes off as the Eddie Van Halen of the acoustic guitar, what with his mastery at both speed and his ability to lift his fingers on and off the guitar (and back again) in such a stunningly quick manner!! Fleetwood Mac might have been a "soft rock" band, but that shouldn't prevent people from seeing what a genius at guitar playing Lindsey is!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

new songs for August 17th, 2011

here they are:

"Do to Me" by Trombone Shorty: From start to finish, "Do to Me" is such a darn catchy song!! The feel-good New Orleans jazz of Trombone Shorty's sax player, combined with the juicy riffs of British classic rock guitar legend Jeff Beck go together remarkably well! There are only four chords throughout the entire song (including the F chord used towards the end of the song), but the rhythm, sax solos, and guitar solos make it so that it pretty much doesn't matter how many times the chords in this song are repeated. I highly recommend this song to fans of feel-good...well...anything, be it rock 'n' roll, jazz, blues, or R & B (as this song manages to combine all four effortlessly!!)

"Don't Give Up On Me Now" by Ben Harper: Once again, Ben Harper embraces his inner classic rock fan on his latest song, "Don't Give Up On Me Now". Unlike the usual Hendrix/Zeppelin type influences that pop up on his material with The Relentless 7, "Don't Give Up On Me Now" emphasizes more of a "roots-rock" flavor that one might picture Neil Young, Tom Petty, or John Mellencamp to use. It's not as though Ben does not do a good job at emulating his influences in this song, though, since he not only pulls off the typical instrumentation/distortion of a Neil Young type song in "Don't Give Up On Me Now", but also throws in the earnestness and strength of the typical Young (or Petty/Mellencamp) tune. Looking forward to knowing just how far Ben will go to show off his inner rock star next time around!!

"How Come You Never Go There?" by Feist: Perhaps the most eagerly anticipated song of the week is this one, from Canadian indie songbird Feist, best known for the deceptively childlike "1, 2, 3, 4". It's been four years since Feist last released something, so I was very excited to find out what her latest song, "How Come You Never Go There?" would sound! One of the best things about Feist is that you never know HOW she's gonna sound with every song she releases! She's done pretty much everything, from folk-y jazz ("Mushaboom"), electro-doo-wop ("Secret Heart"), icy cold alternative disco ("One Evening"), folk-pop ("1, 2, 3, 4"), dark alternative piano-rock ("My Moon, My Man"), and folk-rock ("I Feel It All"). "How Come You Never Go There?" could be considered a combination of quite a few of the (sub)genres I've already mentioned! It sounds a bit like a Fiona Apple song, but with more jazz piano (and rock guitar). Feist is as eclectic as ever here, and I don't think I could be more ecstatic about it right now!!

"Starlight" by Rachael Yamagata: Though Rachael Yamagata's work might not be the sunniest and happiest sort of music (except maybe "Be Be Your Love"), she has (so far) never gotten as dark (or rockin') as she has with "Starlight"! Copping a similar guitar riff to the main bass riff of The Zombies' "Time of the Season", "Starlight" takes on a mood that seems simultaneously angst-y and seductive, so much so, that I could easily imagine it being advertised on a promo for some show on HBO (even though I don't actually watch that station). The moody shift between A minor in the verses and the F and C chords in the chorus might also draw some comparisons of "Starlight" to Fleetwood Mac's "Rhiannon", which uses the same chords during (relatively) the same times in the song. To distinguish "Starlight" from both The Zombies and Fleetwood Mac, Rachael adds in a B flat in between the verses and chorus that neither of the songs I mentioned use. That being said, "Starlight" might just be the song that will get more rock 'n' roll fans interested in Rachael's music. What can I say, I can't say that would be a bad thing, that's for sure!!

"Wonder Why" by Vetiver: Got around a little late to reviewing this one, I realize, but at least my reviewing this song for this week will make my latest blog post end on a good note! "Wonder Why" is such a great song!! The melodic, power-pop-y feel of this song brings to mind a lot of the great "B bands" (i.e. The Beach Boys, The Beatles, The Byrds, Big Star, etc.) of the '60s and '70s! It is so catchy, optimistic, and upbeat, that it's hard to believe Vetiver started out as a band that was more along the lines of the somber, decadent folk-rock of Nick Drake and Elliott Smith. To add to "Wonder Why"'s already nostalgic sound is an even MORE nostalgic music video, with talking houses singing along to the song!! (which can be viewed here - So many great new releases/reviews for the week, but this one just might be my fave!! And on a final note, yes, I tagged "silly music videos with singing puppets" for this week's blog because of the video for this song, even though there's not actually puppets in the video (I figured singing houses done with what was probably computer animation was close enough!)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

new songs for August 10th, 2011

here they are:

"Calamity Song" by The Decemberists: From the epic indie-folk band's latest couple of songs they've released, I've come to the conclusion that at least one (if not all) of the members of The Decemberists are HUGE R.E.M. fans!! "Down By the Water" had almost identical chords to R.E.M.'s "The One I Love", and in "Calamity Song", traces of quite a few early R.E.M. songs ("Catapult", "Talk About the Passion", "Gardening At Night", and "7 Chinese Brothers", to name a couple), can be heard. Interestingly, R.E.M.'s own Peter Buck plays guitar on BOTH of the aforementioned Decemberists tracks! Since this is a new song in which the lyrics are sung at a rather fast pace, I don't know if I can analyze the lyrical aspects of the song well quite yet. But the song itself is fantastic! R.E.M. is my absolute fave band, and this is a great imitation!

"Hearts On Fire" by Scars on 45: One of the very first songs of 2011, "Give Me Something", was released by Scars on 45, and has since become one of THE most successful adult alt/indie pop songs of the year!! Now, in the second half of the year, Scars have come back a second time around with "Hearts On Fire", a remarkably similar song to "Give Me Something" with its melancholy, yearning sound, acoustic guitars in the forefront, and smooth vocals. The piano in this song (and the guest female vocalist during the second verse) help to distinguish this song from Scars biggest (and previously, their only) hit. Somehow, it seems to help when melodic, moody British alt-pop bands use guitar instead of piano (the latter of which is pretty much now defined by Coldplay and Keane). In "Hearts On Fire", Scars manage to pull off the use of both instruments, and STILL make their song sound sincere enough for an audience whose taste for British alt-pop bands runs closer to Travis than it does (later) Coldplay!

"Na Na Nothing" by Mike Doughty: Na na no, this is na na not Mike Doughty's debut children's song about how "nothing" starts with the letter "N", and na na nor does it indicate that Doughty has trouble saying the word "nothing" (both comments that Doughty himself would probably appreciate given his wry, off-the-wall sense of humor). Doughty, the former lead singer for quirky '90s alt-pop band Soul Coughing, has made a surprisingly successful solo career for himself on adult alt radio ever since the mid 2000's, and deservedly so, too! Most of his solo songs have a sound that somewhat suggests what it might be like if Beck (of "Loser" fame) fronted The Dave Matthews Band. An odd sounding combination, to be sure, but Doughty manages to make it work each time, and his latest, "Na Na Nothing", is na na no exception!! It's a na na negative song lyrically, about Doughty feeling cheated in a relationship, but musically, it's very na na nice!! Chances are I'll na na never find a song quite like this one!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

brought to you by the letter "S"

Only two songs for this week, and they both start with that somber, sweet, spectacular, stupendous letter, "S" (same letter as my first name!!) So here goes:

"Sophia" by Laura Marling: Laura Marling's been a prominent member of the indie-folk scene ever since 2006, but it's only been recently that she's gotten the attention she has probably deserved for quite a while now, perhaps because of her work with other London indie-folk acts that have now become major among indie fans across the globe, such as Mumford & Sons and Noah & The Whale. "Sophia", perhaps Laura's first major song so far, reminds me of Simon and Garfunkel for a couple reasons. First off, the main riff of the song has similar notes to the chorus of "Bridge Over Troubled Water", and also, "Sophia" tends to give off a vibe that suggests something somber but still soothing and gentle to the ears. Lyrically, though, "Sophia" is a very depressing song, especially with its recurring line, "I'm wounded by dust". For some reason, though, I often view "depressing" songs as "romantic" if their melodies come across as being mellow enough, and "Sophia" is no exception!

"Stay Young, Go Dancing" by Death Cab for Cutie: Now why wasn't THIS the first single off of Death Cab's latest release, "Codes and Keys"?!? It's so much better than their first single of 2011, "You Are A Tourist" (though that song seems, so far, like it's MUCH more likely to win the title of "song of the year" for 2011!) Where "Tourist" boasted U2-style guitar riffs and an earnest but energetic sound, "Stay Young, Go Dancing" tends to have the opposite effect. Its sound is more suggestive of the "tragic folkie" sound of artists like Nick Drake, Elliott Smith, and Jeff Buckley. Oddly enough, in spite of its bittersweet, yearning sound, "Stay Young, Go Dancing" is one of the most astounding love songs (WITHOUT any "downer" lyrics) that Death Cab has ever done!! When Ben Gibbard sings, "when she sings, I hear a symphony" in this song, I can't help but think that him and I are thinking of the same girl!! (Zooey Deschanel, to whom he is married now)