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!!