Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Eleven songs!!! (For the first time in over a year!!)

How exciting!!! Who knew this many songs would come up during the first half of 2012?!? Well, I'm sure glad they did!! Anyway, here they are:

“California” by Delta Spirit: Well, at least I THOUGHT this was Delta Spirit. Sounds more like the latest Killers song, though. Is it really such a bad move for the typically Springsteen-goes-indie sound of Delta Spirit to suddenly veer towards a more new wave-y sound?! Well, yes and no. I personally think Delta Spirit should have stuck to their usual sound because it just suits them better! However, The Deltas were probably thinking ahead when they made this song in terms of wanting to gain a larger audience. The songs “Bushwick Blues” and “Golden State” from their last album, “History From Below” seemed to get Delta Spirit more of a taste of the limelight than anything from their debut album, “Ode to Sunshine”, so if they’re doing a flashy song with dueling synths and guitars like “California”, it’s probably because they enjoyed the surprise success of their last album and they want to move forward from there! I like “California”, but it’s also a disappointment in comparison to the other Delta Spirit songs I know.

“Caught Me Thinking” by Bahamas: Before “Caught Me Thinking”, all I knew from Bahamas was a cover of the lone Christmas song from folk-rock legends, The Band, “Christmas Must Be Tonight”. That being said, I was curious to know what Bahamas sounded like otherwise. Turns out their sound (at least for “Caught Me Thinking”) is very similar to their name, in that the smooth vibe of the song, combined with the echo-y distortion of its electric guitar, evoke a pleasantly “island-y” image, much like the actual island of Bahamas would. The mellow surf-rock feel of “Caught Me Thinking” provides perfect juxtaposition for its break-up-song lyrics, and it also seems as though the lead singer of Bahamas is trying to trick us with the title of the song, which is not mentioned, and instead, the words “GOT me thinking” are sung in the chorus. The title is not a mistake, though, it has been listed as “Caught Me Thinking”, and not “Got Me Thinking” everywhere I’ve seen it posted, which is in quite a few places by now.

“Downward Facing Dog” by moe.: This song is a long overdue release that has been on the adult alt radio airwaves since November, but sadly, I wasn’t able to find a decent copy of it until last week! It’s a good song, though. It also makes me curious to know if every underrated “jam band” besides Phish needs to go for a somewhat ‘70s hard-rock-ish sound in order to make their big breakthrough as musicians. Widespread Panic’s “North” sounded like Lynyrd Skynyrd, and it has been their biggest hit so far, and Umphrey’s McGee’s “Miami Virtue” had a Pink Floyd/Rush type sound and has been their only song CLOSE to a hit so far! “Downward Facing Dog” is the closest that the jam band formerly known as Five Guys Named Moe has gotten to a “classic rock” sound, specifically recalling the Southern blues-y rock sounds of bands such as ZZ Top and The Black Crowes. Moe. are usually a jazzier, more freeform band than how they come off as on “Downward Facing Dog”. Another aspect that makes this song interesting is that it slows down its tempo in the middle. “Downward Facing Dog” is a good song, I just wish that “jam bands” like moe. could be accepted more as jam bands than as “classic rock revival” bands.

“Easy Come, Easy Go” by Great Lake Swimmers: Great Lake Swimmers have been a fave among indie fans for quite awhile now. “Easy Come, Easy Go” marks the first time that The Swimmers have finally gotten noticed (slightly) beyond their core audience! It doesn’t seem too different than the typical indie song, though. That, however, is a GOOD thing for bands that were previously relative unknowns like Great Lake Swimmers, in that, instead of compromising their sound to reach a more “mainstream” audience, they have kept it just the way it is! The acoustic guitars, violins, and soothing vocals create a dreamy atmosphere surrounding “Easy Come, Easy Go”. A combination like that is already enough to win me over, but the fact that Great Lake Swimmers are staying loyal to their fanbase in terms of their sound earns “Easy Come, Easy Go” an extra bonus point!

“Eyeoneye” by Andrew Bird: Andrew Bird has always been somewhat of an oddity, even in the indie rock world! For starters, his song titles are…well…different, to say the least. His most popular song so far, “Fitz and The Dizzyspells” sounds more like the name of a band than the name of a song, andthetitletohislatestsonghasthewordsallsmooshedtogetherintoonewordaswell. He also uses unusual instrumentation, like violins (which take on a quality all their own in his songs), and pretty much every Andrew Bird song features him whistling. “Eyeoneye” is just one more touch of weirdness in the Andrew Bird catalog, in which he seems to be attempting his own version of punk rock (which comes out sounding a bit like a cross between The Velvet Underground and the ‘60s psychedelic rock group, Love). Not only are the guitars (slightly) amped up on “Eyeoneye”, but so is the angst of the lyrics (opening with a snide, sarcastic, “Go ahead and congratulate yourself”), and the way they are delivered. “Eyeoneye” might not sit quite comfortably with most Andrew Bird fans, but it’s fine with me. Andrew Bird is just one of those musicians who does what he does, and manages to sound good no matter what!

“Hurry Hurry” by Jessie Baylin: “Hurry Hurry” is one of those songs that sounds a lot older than it actually is! It comes off like somewhat of a “sequel” to old bossa nova songs like “The Girl From Ipanema”, and Jessie Baylin’s smooth, billowy, yearning vocals only add to the nostalgia factor of this song! I was expecting a folk-rock or singer/songwriter influenced sound to this song, but instead I got a cross between bossa nova and the female equivalent to “vocal” singers like Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. This wasn’t a letdown for me, though, in fact, quite the opposite! Seems like the type of song that might be on during a romantic, candle-lit dinner. Didn’t think I was going to hear anything like that during the 21st century, but something in me tells me it’s a good thing I did!

“I Could Be A King” by The Dunwells: What if Mumford and Sons decided to cover The Sundays’ bittersweet alt-pop classic, “Here’s Where the Story Ends”? Well, it would probably end up sounding a lot like “I Could Be A King”, the first major song from neo-folk-rockers The Dunwells. It uses the same uniquely styled “G” chord that “Here’s Where the Story Ends” used, yet the bluegrass-y sound of the guitar and banjo, as well as the low yet reedy vocals of the lead singer both bring to mind bands like Mumford and Sons. “I Could Be A King” sounds like a song that is as yearning as it is playful, and the lyrics to the song, in which the singer fantasizes about being a king, a poet, and a superhero, among other things, seem to justify that it is both a quirky and poetic song. That being said, this song is an instant winner for me!

“Jealous Girl” by Ben Kweller: In “Jealous Girl”, Ben Kweller sticks to the music he does best, melodic, somewhat Beatlesque power pop with angst-ridden lyrics on the side. Though the title alone to this song indicates negativity, Ben is clever enough here to disguise it as a high-spirited, happy pop song. The backing “ooh-ooh” vocals, the bright piano sound, the song’s major key, and even Ben’s intentional stuttering on the letter “J” in the word “jealous” all help to make “Jealous Girl” seem like it came straight out of the British Invasion (even though Ben Kweller is actually American). This song seems like it would make the perfect song to listen to in the spring and/or summertime, so why Ben chose to release it during winter is beyond me. I’m so glad he did, though!

“Moonshine” by My Pet Dragon: The name of this band alone was enough to tell me this song was probably pretty cool!! I mean, it sounds like the name of some obscure children’s book (and it very well could have been – the indie group Tilly and The Wall named themselves after a children’s book by Leo Lionni). “Moonshine” is a pretty cool song, just like I thought it would be! Of course, that’s not just because the name of the band that did it is called “My Pet Dragon”. It’s also because of the melodic vocals of the lead singer and the shimmering, glistening sound of the guitar! The title of the song might sound like something pretty, but don’t be fooled. The “moonshine” in this song is actually the name of an alcoholic beverage. Still, that doesn’t prevent me from thinking about how truly awesome this song is!

“Strike the Motion” by Mike Doughty: Perhaps I shouldn’t be too surprised that this is a somewhat rockin’ song (albeit with acoustic guitars as the main instrument) by the typically folk-y Mike Doughty, since he started out in the alternative rock outfit, Soul Coughing, but this sounds like a fast paced and somewhat angst-y song for Mike! It still retains the typical Doughty-isms, like odd but clever wordplay (take, for instance, the assonance used in the ending lyrics, “ferocious commotion, you choked, you got lockjaw”), but even that sounds scathing coming from the normally composed Doughty (notice I utilized the same technique for assonance that he did for the words “normally”, “composed”, and “Doughty” used consecutively!!) Still, a little bit of snarky never hurt anyone, especially if it is from someone known for being tongue-in-cheek like Mike Doughty!

“We Take Care of Our Own” by Bruce Springsteen: Much like “The Rising”, inspired by the 9/11 attacks from about a decade earlier, “We Take Care of Our Own” is also an anthem of political frustration from The Boss, most likely about the “Occupy” movement. This, of course, is not a new subject for Springsteen. What is new, however (and quite tragic) is that his sax man, Clarence Clemons, died last year, so there are none of the trademark sax solos typically featured in Springsteen’s material on “We Take Care of Our Own”. Bruce’s best work, to me, was in the 1970’s. His combination of jazz, folk, soul, and rock, along with his often narrative, poetic lyrical stances, was quite fresh and exciting in terms of the music that came out during that time! After that, his music often leaned towards either arena rock (most of the Born In the U.S.A. album), or soft rock that lacked the intensity of his work in the ‘70s (an exception being the sublimely ethereal “Secret Garden”, perhaps one of his most poignant songs ever recorded). The only song of his so far that has even come close to what he did in the ‘70s is the joyously hard-rockin’ “Radio Nowhere” from 2007. Sure, “The Rising” was a great attempt at raising political awareness, and it was a powerful song, but it lacked the spark and showmanship of songs like “Born to Run” and “Rosalita”. I feel similarly about “We Take Care of Our Own”. It’s a good song with a dynamic message, but the rollicking, swept away feeling of his songs of olden days just isn’t there. Perhaps I should expect this since Bruce is pushing 60 by now, but it just doesn’t feel the same to me!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

New songs for January 18th, 2012

Here they are:

“Get Yourself Another Fool” by Paul McCartney: At first this song seemed like a rather disappointing departure from the wonderful Radiohead/Oasis-like Britpop influenced material Sir Paul went for in the mid to late 2000’s, with such gems of his as the somber “Jenny Wren”, the delightfully pop-y “Fine Line”, the bright pseudo-alt-pop of “Ever Present Past”, and the jubilant “Dance Tonight”, among others. “Get Yourself Another Fool” seemed like Paul’s attempt to be, say, Norah Jones, Jamie Cullum, or some other smooth jazz influenced contemporary pop musician. While “Get Yourself Another Fool” certainly has that sound to it, it relieved me to know that this wasn’t actually Paul’s song, but rather, a song from the legendary soul musician, Sam Cooke. With Paul’s take on “Get Yourself Another Fool”, the song has now been covered by two British rock musicians (the other being Elvis Costello). Jazz-pop doesn’t seem like it was ever something Sir Paul was interested in, but perhaps I’ll give him some slack since it’s his first time attempting to perform something of the genre. It’s been a little hard for me to warm up to this song, as I was expecting the alt-pop, Nigel Godrich produced sound of McCartney here, but perhaps in time I’ll grow to really like this one, who knows.

“Shake Your Hips” by Joan Osborne: Most people probably remember Joan Osborne as the somewhat Alanis Morissette-ish singer from the mid-‘90s who did that song about God being “one of us”. While I do like that song, Joan was really a much more diverse performer than that! She also dabbled in folk-rock (“St. Teresa”), blues (“Right Hand Man”), and soul (“Ladder”). She especially seemed to like soul music for quite some time (so much so, in fact, that she sang Martha and The Vandellas’ “Heat Wave” during a Motown tribute performance), and soul was pretty much what she stuck to doing throughout the 2000’s. Most of her attempts at soul didn’t come out very well, though (the aforementioned “Heat Wave” cover excepted). Now that the 2010’s have come around, though, Joan has decided to take on the blues-woman aspect she did in “Right Hand Man”. “Shake Your Hips” is actually even MORE true to the spirit of the blues than “Right Hand Man”, though, in that it’s literally a one-chord vamp (it is just A major throughout), like many blues songs tend to be, and it has a chuggin’ boogie beat that John Lee Hooker would be proud of if he were still alive today!

“Simple Song” by The Shins: The most heavily anticipated song of the week comes to us from none other than the band who first became popular through the “Garden State” soundtrack. Their lead singer, James Mercer, made his last album with The Shins in 2007. He embarked on a successful side project, Broken Bells, with Danger Mouse from Gnarls Barkley, three years after that, so he’s been a busy man for quite some time. “Simple Song”, however marks the first time The Shins have performed together in five years!! So how does the band sound after half a decade of absence from the music world?! Quite different, actually. The Byrds-y arpeggios and Beach Boys-style harmonies that once dominated The Shins’ catalog are not present on “Simple Song”, a song that combines the bass hook of Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure” with crunchy (but still melodic) Matthew Sweet style power pop. The four minute length and five or so chords used in “Simple Song” might make it live up to its title, but this just isn’t what I was expecting from The Shins. It’s BETTER!! James Mercer and the boys are also playing Coachella this year, and “Simple Song” is probably one of the main reasons why!

“Underneath the Sycamore” by Death Cab for Cutie: Whenever Death Cab comes out with a new album, at least one song from it is mega-successful on both adult alt radio and “regular” alt-rock radio. Their latest album, “Codes and Keys”, is no exception to the rule. Two songs from the album (the uber-popular “You Are A Tourist”, as well as “Stay Young, Go Dancing”) have already made their way onto the airwaves, and as 2012 kicks into gear, Death Cab now have a THIRD song from “Codes And Keys” pushing for radio airplay! Since Ben Gibbard was married to the lovely Zooey Deschanel during the year “Codes And Keys” came out, just about every song from the album so far has been optimistic. “Underneath the Sycamore” is also optimistic, but its sound is somewhat U2-ish in comparison to the mostly folk-rock influenced catalog of Death Cab for Cutie. “You Are A Tourist” also had a U2-ish sound, so Ben Gibbard probably wanted to go for a larger audience on “Codes And Keys” (although “Stay Young, Go Dancing” adhered to the folk-rock sound of most of their material, so Death Cab haven’t TOTALLY switched their sound…yet). The title track to “Codes And Keys” would have made for a more satisfying choice for the third single off the album, but “Underneath the Sycamore” is still not a bad choice.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

It all started with a big...BANG!! 10 songs for 2012!!

Isn't this exciting?!? The new year has arrived and already we've got almost a dozen songs in store to review!!! Let's take a look at 'em shall we?!

"Calling Me Names" by Good Old War: Good Old War would probably be called just "Good Old" if it weren't for the fact that sounds grammatically incorrect!! The reason I say this is because that's just the kind of music Good Old War typically do! Their sound basically is what it'd be like if Simon and Garfunkel and The Lovin' Spoonful had a baby, only updated for the indie/alt generation of the 2000's and 2010's. There's really nothing "war" like about their sound. This is the fifth successful song GOW have had on adult alt radio stations. Unlike their previous four songs, this one really is more folk-ROCK than folk-pop, but mainly because of the (surprise) electric guitar solo in the middle of it (it doesn't sound too out of place, though, in fact, I think it goes right along with the song!) This song is so bubbly and heartwarming, it's honestly hard to believe that its joyful sound masks a tale of heartbreak. Overall, though, this is a very charming, well thought out song!

"Chains of Love" by Ryan Adams: Like Ryan's previous adult alt radio mega-hit, "Lucky Now", this is an acoustic Ryan Adams song. Its B major 7th chord (or rather, a capoed chord, from what it looks like in the video I'm watching of this song) already gets it off to a good start, though! It's funny to me that Ryan is not only cutting down his sound, but also the time it takes to do each song, in terms of the songs from his latest album! "Lucky Now" was a little under 3 minutes, and "Chains of Love" is barely under TWO!! (A feat that only songs like The Beatles' "Norwegian Wood" and Nick Drake's "Pink Moon" have accomplished so far!!) Perhaps that's exactly the vibe Ryan is trying to evoke on "Chains of Love" - a somber '60s folk-rock vibe reminiscent of songs like "Pink Moon" and "Norwegian Wood". It initially took me awhile for me to accept that Ryan's latest album wasn't going to have a powerhouse Springsteen/U2 type sound, but now I'm having second thoughts about that, in a good way!!

"Gold On the Ceiling" by The Black Keys: On The Black Keys previous album "Brothers", the faster song ("Tighten Up") was released first, and the slower, blues-ier song ("Howlin' For You") was second. For the Keys' latest effort, "El Camino", they set up the same pattern, faster song ("Lonely Boy") first, and slower, blues-ier song (this one, "Gold On the Ceiling") after that one. The more I'm getting to know the music of The Black Keys, the more genius I think they are! They're obviously a band who wears their classic rock influences on their sleeve, be it the glam rock of David Bowie or T. Rex, or the British blues boogie-rock of The Animals or The Yardbirds, yet somehow they make this sound fresh, as though it had never existed before they came along! And pretty much every song I've heard off of "Brothers" and "El Camino" have successfully stuck in my head (and the heads of many others)!! It's no wonder they're one of the main attractions (if not THE main attraction) at Coachella this year!!

"Hide Your Colors" by The Jayhawks: Probably the closest an indie audience can get to rock groups who utilized both folk and country influences prominently (The Byrds, The Band, Buffalo Springfield, Crosby Stills and Nash, etc.) would be The Jayhawks. They have been well loved by adult alt audiences ever since the early '90s (back when "adult alternative" was a new radio format), but it took until almost two decades later to land a MEGA-hit on adult alt radio, with the Byrds-y "She Walks In So Many Ways". The Hawks' latest song, "Hide Your Colors" is from the same CD as "She Walks..." ("Mockingbird Time"), but it doesn't have the same hook, rhythm, and bounciness as that song does. "Hide Your Colors" is slower, has more string sections to back it up, and sounds more like a George Harrison song (esp. during the solo) than a Byrds song. The lyrics to the song are simultaneously sad and somewhat enigmatic (the chorus, for instance, "You shouldn't hide your colors"), so it is definitely not a brightly spirited love song in the vein of "She Walks In So Many Ways", but there's still plenty to like about it, as there always is with the Jayhawks' music.

"High On A Wire" by Black Box Revelation: Is it just me, or do newer bands with the word "Black" in their name have a thing for the blues?! There's The Black Keys (see "Gold On the Ceiling", two songs earlier than this one), and also the later work of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Well here's a third band to put the "blues" in "black" - Black Box Revelation!! Their first song to make a significant impact on adult alt radio, "High On A Wire", is a great song to kick off the new year with!! It has a somewhat slow beat, but not a sad one, more of a "cool" boogie-blues beat a la John Lee Hooker! A band like this probably could have hit the mainstream back when bands like The White Stripes and Jet first made a big impact on rock music, but if Black Box Revelation only reaches the indie/adult alt crowds with this song, that's no problem with me. Better that than nothing, I say!

"Hold On" by Alabama Shakes: What's country, soul, blues, and indie all over?! The Alabama Shakes, that's who!! If a contemporary "alt-country" band (Drive-By Truckers, maybe) recorded at the legendary soul music circuit of Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, it would probably come out sounding like "Hold On" by Alabama Shakes, yet another band making their initial impact on adult alt radio in early 2012!! Though I'm usually quick to praise anything with an "indie" sound, Alabama Shakes seem like the sort of band that even people who AREN'T that drawn to indie rock would like! The vocals sound like Jack White from The White Stripes, the guitars have that spicy country-blues-rock sound you might hear in songs by The Allman Brothers, Little Feat, or The Black Crowes, and the drums wouldn't sound that out of place in an Otis Redding song! How's THAT for "different"?!

"How'd You Like That?" by The Kooks: What the?!? Have The Kooks added Elton John into their band?! Or maybe Ben Folds?! Nope, it's just that this is the first major song from The Kooks to feature both piano and guitar as prominent instruments! An ambitious project for the mostly guitar-oriented, Kinks influenced music of The Kooks, but Luke Pritchard and co are able to make it work here!! It's clear that The Kooks are trying to expand their musical pallet for their latest album. "Junk of the Heart (Happy)" mixed sunny, Beatlesque pop/rock with Burt Bacharach-ish major 7th chords, and "Is It Me?" sounded like something out of Phoenix or Vampire Weekend's catalog. That being said, The Kooks' combination of a sweeping piano sound with their signature guitar distortion results in a darn catchy tune like most of their material!! Too bad they're not playing Coachella this year. They seem like they'd be a great act to see live!

"Might Find It Cheap" by Blitzen Trapper: And here's ANOTHER indie band that has expanded their range of musical influences (and, sadly, was ALSO left out of Coachella!!) Blitzen Trapper typically have a folk-rock sound in their music. The closest they've gotten to electric guitar oriented music was the Donovan-esque "Dragon's Song". But wait!! Are those electric guitars that sound like they could've come from Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin at the beginning of "Might Find It Cheap"?!? Well, they're not actually Jimmy Page's guitar, of course, but those ARE electric guitars with a fuzzy distortion that's a FAR cry from the typical folk-rock sound of Blitzen Trapper!! And what's with those lyrics, "You might find it cheap, but you're never gonna find it free"?!? Could they possibly be using innuendo in this song with a rock star swagger a la Mick Jagger?!? Certainly is unusual for a band that usually does songs about mysterious adventures out in the woods ("Black River Killer"), psychedelic yet lilting fantasies ("Dragon's Song"), and lovesick lullabies (their latest song before this one, "Love the Way You Walk Away"). Heck, if these guys were more popular (and around in the '60s/'70s), this song would be surefire hit on classic rock stations!! Definitely a shocker for Blitzen Trapper, but still a good song!

"The Bad In Each Other" by Feist: Perhaps not QUITE a "new" entry, as this song has been a minor hit with the "indie" crowd since around late November/early December, but it's only started making its way to adult alt radio stations (aside from LA's KCSN, who have played this song ever since late November/early December). A wise decision on Feist's part (or maybe her manager's) to have "How Come You Never Go There?" released as the first big song off her latest CD, "Metals", as it is a very catchy, charming, and memorable song. "The Bad In Each Other" is definitely memorable, but not quite catchy or charming. It is a minor key song with dark lyrics to match! The unusual instrumentation (horns, tambourines) that gets added in with the more typical instruments (guitar, drums) used in the song proves it's a pure Feist song when it comes to its sound. This is probably the moodiest song in Feist's catalog so far, but it's not as though she hasn't done other songs in minor key before ("My Moon, My Man", anyone?!)

"Which Side Are You On?" by Ani DiFranco: Not everyone knows who Ani DiFranco is, but they oughta!! She's all kinds of awesome! A folk-rocker, singer/songwriter, lesbian rights activist, and political activist in general, Ani has been hard at work in the music biz since the early '90s, and she's been staying strong ever since! Her latest song, "Which Side Are You On?", has a rather deceiving start to it. It sounds like it's going to be a bluegrass song, but as the electric guitars come charging in after about 30 seconds in, Ani pounds out a powerhouse anthem that Woody Guthrie probably would've done had he been a folk-rocker as opposed to a folk musician. Ani's clearly frustrated with the current American political system in this song (and, later on in the song, feminism). She's had some raw emotion in her songs before, but none as raw (or rockin') as this one!! Almost 20 years into her musical career and stronger than ever!! Now THAT's something to admire. If her and Tom Morello (as his folk-rock alter ego "The Nightwatchman") ever did a concert together I'd SO pay to see that!! I think her and Morello are on the same page now, both musically and politically! Rock on, sista!!