Thursday, February 28, 2013

Spencer Griffin's New Music...THURSDAYS?! Day Late, Dollar Short

The site I usually check on to update me for new material was a day late for some reason. Anyway I DO have some new songs now (though not very many). Here they are:

"All the Time" by The Strokes: When I think of music by The Strokes, "mellow" is not usually the first word that comes to mind! They're best known for their 21st century take on garage rock, like "Last Nite" and "Reptilia", the latter of which has elements of new wave in it as well. Well it seems as though new wave is what The Strokes want to concentrate on now. They have gone from being the new Velvet Underground to being more like the new Cars. "All the Time" shouldn't be a total letdown to longtime fans of the band, though, as there are still plenty of juicy guitar hooks and catchy beats putting energy into the song, but it lacks an "in-your-face" quality like most of their songs do. "All the Time" might be a turn in another direction for The Strokes, but at least it has a "stroke" of genius in there somewhere, hardy-har-har!

"Hearts And Minds" by Son Volt: It's another of many bluegrass tinged rock tunes for the 2010's, but Son Volt have been at that sorta game since the mid 1990's, so they've been doing it longer than most of 'em have! Son Volt usually have a "meaty" sound with a slightly twang-y electric guitar reminiscent of groups like The Old '97s, but their latest song, "Hearts And Minds", has a more subdued sound, like The Avett Brothers or The Civil Wars. Perhaps "Hearts And Minds" goes a step further from being called "bluegrass-rock", as it is more like a bluegrass WALTZ, if you listen closely to the rhythm of the song. "Hearts And Minds" makes for a nice "road song", but more like the kind you'd want to hear when you're heading back from a vacation at dusk, as opposed to the hot, blazing, "Born to Be Wild"-ish sound one might think of first when the term "road song" is mentioned.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

New songs for February 20th, 2013

here they are:

"A Tattered Line of String" - by The Postal Service: It sounds like an unusually mellow brand of techno with the vocals of Ben Gibbard from Death Cab for Cutie. Hmmmm....sounds like the same guys who sung the chill 2004 techno-rocker "Such Great Heights". Have they come out of hibernation after 9 years?! Yes!! They have!! And those are Ben Gibbard's vocals, The Postal Service was (and is) his side project. I personally think Ben is better as a folk-rocker than as a new wave revivalist, but ever since the beginning of this year, I began hearing about how The Postal Service were going to reform, and I noticed that many people were eagerly anticipating their sophomore album, and now it's finally arrived! Not a bad effort for Mr. Gibbard, but I think he should stick with either Death Cab or his solo material for next time.

"Entertainment" by Phoenix: And now, here is yet another band who launched the new wave sound into a new age! Their songs "1901" and "Lisztomania" were both instant hits, probably because the synth side and the rock side of new wave never sounded so good together since Talking Heads had their last string of hits together! The latest song from the catchy French indie pop group Phoenix, "Entertainment", is a bit less focused on the guitar than their previous songs were. The sound of the song screams out "geek-rock", as it seems like it would be the perfect theme song to a video game or anime series, perhaps because it uses a scale during the chorus that is common to Japanese music. A different kind of "entertainment" than the typical Phoenix fan might be used to, but "Entertainment" is entertaining nonetheless.

"Gotta Get Over" by Eric Clapton: Initially a part of powerhouse psychedelic blues-rock groups like The Yardbirds and Cream, there are those who criticize Clapton of "softening" or "polishing" his sound ever since the mid 1970's. The criticism is certainly valid in some ways, and indeed, he seemed to hit a low point in his career around the mid '90s, in which his sound was closer to folk and country than it was to blues, but ever since the release of his 2010 rocker, "Run Back to Your Side", Clapton has beefed up his sound so that it sounds closer to "After Midnight" than it does to a sub-par version of "Tears In Heaven". "Gotta Get Over" is another rockin', bluesy number from Eric Clapton. Not a whole lot of lyrics on "Gotta Get Over", but since the focus here is more on the electric guitar sound, the lyrical content doesn't matter as much for this song. Keep rockin' on, E.C.!!

"Just to Make Me Feel Good" by Adam Green and Binki Shapiro: The Moldy Peaches' lead singer (the one who sings the male vocals on "Anyone Else But You" from "Juno"), and the female multi-instrumentalist from indie-pop group Little Joy joining forces together could spell trouble for Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward (known together as "She & Him"). It doesn't look like Adam and Binki are going to be anywhere near as well known as Zooey and Matt, but they still make an endearing (if odd) indie-pop duo. Unlike She & Him, in which Zooey has pretty much all the vocal duties, Adam and Binki trade off vocal sections on their songs. Their first major song, "Just to Make Me Feel Good", has the breezy, feel-good sound of a 1960's pop song. There is definitely a major difference between the charming, bubbly female vocals of Binki Shapiro and the low, deadpan male vocals of Adam Green, but somehow, they manage to make it work here, and to great effect as well!

"Long Time Gone" by The Civil Wars and T-Bone Burnett: Old folk meets new folk! The Civil Wars have had a couple hits now among indie and neo-folk fans, and T-Bone Burnett is known more for his production (like on the "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack) than his songs, but they both share a love for roots-y American folk music. Aside from The Wars' best known song, "Barton Hollow", "Long Time Gone" is probably the roots-iest, folk-iest song they've ever done! As always, Joy and John make their harmonies soar on "Long Time Gone", and T-Bone Burnett's accompaniment makes The Civil Wars sound like a band that came out of...well...the Civil War!

"Minute By Minute" by The James Hunter Six: Whoa! Did I just take a time machine to 1967 and end up in Stax Records Studios?! (The people known for producing Otis Redding's material and some of Wilson Pickett's) It sure seems like I did! It's R & B music, but definitely not what people would associate with contemporary R & B. This is the classic stuff, with raw, passionate vocals, steamy saxophones, and clean, slick organs. The most striking feature of Hunter's music? He's WHITE!! I'm not someone who considers ethnicity in music (or anything) to be a big deal, but Hunter has such close vocals to Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, etc., that I thought he was more African-American than Caucasian. I guess Hunter embraces both vintage sound and racial diversity, so I say, way to go, man!!

"Spotlight" by Leagues: A bit late in reviewing this song, I realize, since it's been out since late December, but it's only been within the last week that I've noticed an increase in the airplay of this song (perhaps because that's how recently it was featured in "Grey's Anatomy"). With its echoic guitar sound and catchy rhythm, I’m honestly surprised that “Spotlight” hasn’t been a hit in formats other than adult alternative yet! (Perhaps I’ve spoken too soon, though). Its chorus, consisting only of the phrases “I’m never gonna give you up” and “Spotlight, I’ve got a spotlight”, is short, but extremely effective in terms of getting stuck in one’s head. “Spotlight”’s pentatonic guitar solo in the middle of the song is like the cherry on top of this already delicious ice cream of a song!

“The Lightning Strike” by Snow Patrol: Snow Patrol seem to love updating their older material with new arrangements! It’s happened twice now, with the 2009 release of “An Olive Grove Facing the Sea” (originally from 2001) and the 2010 release of “Set the Fire to the Third Bar” (originally from 2006). Their third “re-release” song is “The Lightning Strike”, originally from 2008. The song adds yet another unique flavor of sound to the Irish indie pop group’s already eclectic catalog. The chord progression of the song seems more common to classical music than it is to rock and pop, and the instrumentation is incredibly orchestral for a Snow Patrol song. Another aspect that makes “The Lightning Strike” stand out among previous material from Gary Lightbody and co? It has THREE PARTS!! As far as rock music goes, I would expect a song with more than one part from, say, Rush, Pink Floyd, Yes, or Jethro Tull, but NOT Snow Patrol!! As adult alt radio stations don’t seem to typically play songs that are actually two (or more) songs in one, I think it’s safe to assume that only the first part of “The Lightning Strike” will be spun on such stations. The imagery of “perfect halos”, “silver forked skies”, and “peeling thunder” probably wouldn’t sound too out of place in a prog-rock album, actually. Who knew Snow Patrol were closet Pink Floyd fans?! I sure didn’t!!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Songs for the day before Valentine's Day

Well, ok, so not all of these are love songs, but I'll review 'em anyway! Here goes:

"Follow the Road" by The Dunwells: With the strength of their first big hit, "I Could Be A King", I initially thought that The Dunwells were like an American version of Mumford and Sons, but now that I'm getting to know the brothers Dunwell a little better, I can see that they are much more eclectic than that! No song proves their willingness to be different more than their latest song, "Follow the Road". It even starts out kinda cool, with its vaguely sitar-ish psych-folk sound. It quickly turns into a roots-rocker of the finest quality, with a wicked guitar solo to boot! As "bluegrass-rock" has quickly become the latest, hippest trend in rock music of the 2010's, The Dunwells really put the "rock" in "bluegrass-rock", at least for "Follow the Road", and how!!

"From A Window Seat" by Dawes: One of the two most anticipated new releases of the week (along with the latest from blue-eyed soul group Fitz and The Tantrums), "From A Window Seat" by Dawes shows Taylor Goldsmith and co's ever growing fascination for the roots-y side of classic rock (perhaps this was partly influenced by the members actually MEETING Jackson Browne, and then collaborating with him shortly afterwards). It's a bit more bouncy and upbeat than the typical Dawes song, and it seems to echo both the beat and style of guitar playing from songs like "Sultans of Swing" by Dire Straits. Lyrically, Dawes seem to be stretching their boundaries on "From A Window Seat". Instead of waxing poetic about "judg(ing) the whole world on the sparkle that you think it lacks", or talking about someone with that "special kind of sadness", far more surreal imagery concerning "dreams of captains and explorers eating boots" (whatever THAT means!!) comes up instead. Go figure!!

"Gone Gone Gone" by Phillip Phillips: With the word "Gone" mentioned three times and the name "Phillip" mentioned twice, saying the name of this song and artist out loud seems kinda funny, but the person who is (so far) "American Idol's" sole folk-rocker is no comedian. It's honestly unbelievable to me that Phillip would have another song besides "Home" getting attention, since "Home" was in so many places in the fall of 2012 that it seemed like one of those songs that just couldn't be topped. Though "Gone Gone Gone" hasn't had near the level of success "Home" has so far, Phillip Phillips seems to know what the basic formula is for having one of his songs becoming a hit. Positive message ("I'll love you long after you're gone")? Check! Acoustic guitar in the verses and bright shiny horns in the chorus? Check! A bouncy, irresistible earworm of a song? Well, "Gone Gone Gone" is different than that. It's a bit more poignant than it is happy, but there is still plenty of charm and warm, cozy vibes to be found in "Gone Gone Gone"!

"Good Love" by Jenny O: The echo-y acoustic guitars, funky beat, and honey-sweet vocals of Jenny O's breakthrough song, "Good Love", could liken her to being like an indie Fleetwood Mac (though plenty of people have taken that title already, most notably Jenny Lewis from Rilo Kiley). The fact that "Good Love" uses only two chords (E minor and A minor) makes it a bit more minimalistic than Fleetwood Mac, but it still sounds like a song that came straight out of the mid-'70s for some reason. Simple though it may be, "Good Love" still has that sort of organic, earthy honesty that provides a breath of fresh air in comparison to most songs of the 2010's. Not much more to say about this song, aside from how sometimes, the easiest approach to crafting a song can also the best approach.

"Inch of Rope" by Courrier: "Inch of Rope", the second major song from British sounding alt-pop group, Courrier, seems to pick up where The Airborne Toxic Event (also listed for this week's blog) left off. Where The Airborne Toxic Event seemed to want to take more of a generic alt-pop route to music, Courrier dabble in a more honest brand of what sounds like Brit-pop (though they are actually Texans) that has become scarce in a world full of piano-based Coldplay and Keane sound-alikes. A kind of contemplation is present in Courrier's music that actually makes me feel drawn to it, and about the only bands I really find comparable to them at the moment are groups like Scars on 45 and A Silent Film (both of whom are ACTUALLY British). Courrier are a rarity in this day and age, but perhaps sometimes, good things are better when they're a rarity.

"Out of My League" by Fitz and The Tantrums: Fitz and The Tantrums first broke through in fall of 2010, with their soulful alt-pop/rock mega-hit, "MoneyGrabber", known for its Motown-esque "white soul" sound. For their latest song, the heavily anticipated "Out of My League", Fitz and co shake things up a bit by adding a bit of new wave influence, while still keeping a bit of R & B at the core of their sound. Perhaps the small but still somewhat significant trend of "new wave soul" in bands like Graffiti6 and Electric Guest was part of what made Fitz and The Tantrums want to add more of a new wave-y sound into their own music. Hall and Oates are one of Fitz and The Tantrums biggest heroes, though (they even recorded some music at Daryl Hall's house once!) and it seems like that's who FATT are trying to emulate the most on "Out of My League". Hall and Oates made a similar transition between the '70s and the '80s from being "blue-eyed soul" to being more new wave influenced, so that would make sense. Though "Out of My League" doesn't seem like it will have near the impact "MoneyGrabber" did, it's still well worth the listen!

"Roots and Vine" by Sons of Fathers: Both the name of this song and the name of this band bring to mind a sort of folks-y, 19th century America kinda vibe, don't they?! Well, that's not too far from the truth, in this case! At least in terms of the roots-y, accordion laden music, it isn't. The song itself seems to be more of a "drinking song", though, particularly during the chorus ("You're the roots and I'm the vine, together we can make the wine"). Like Courrier (reviewed earlier during this week's blog), Sons of Fathers are a Texan band. Unlike Courrier, Sons of Fathers actually SOUND Texan. Lead singer Paul Cauthen's Texan heritage are an obvious reason why "Roots and Vine" sounds the way it does. A less obvious influence on Cauthen's music, for those who are interested, is how he spent time on a chain gang when he was younger. Talk about your American history!

"Timeless" by The Airborne Toxic Event: There isn't really anything "timeless" about the way The Airborne Toxic Event's latest song sounds, as it doesn't stand a chance against "Sgt. Pepper", "Pet Sounds", and other songs/albums that truly ARE "timeless". However, there's still a good reason why the song has the title it does, and it's quite touching, really. It is because that is the way lead singer Mikel Jollett feels about his grandmother, who was recently deceased. Somehow, I feel like "Timeless" could have been a much more effectively melancholy song, but still, it deserves an A for effort, since it's the first song I know of by The Airborne Toxic Event that deals with death, and the death of someone terribly close, at that.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

New songs for February 6th, 2013

here they are:

"Mixed Up Shook Up Girl" by Boz Scaggs: Known to many as a two hit wonder from the 1970's (for "Lido Shuffle" and "Lowdown") who mixed rock music with soul music, Boz Scaggs also mixed elements of other genres, such as jazz and blues, into his songs, and the influence of this clearly shows in his latest song, "Mixed Up Shook Up Girl", originally performed by eclectic new wave musician Mink DeVille. This song doesn't have the relentless, raving energy of "Lowdown" or "Lido Shuffle", but it still has a sense of energy nonetheless, albeit in a more subdued form. Scaggs might have mellowed out a bit for "Mixed Up Shook Up Girl", but it's still a catchy song, reminiscent of some of the more upbeat material from Van Morrison's catalog. Nice to know that he still knows how to make songs with a solid hook nearly 35 years after his biggest hits came out!

"Tongue Behind My Teeth" by The Staves: One of a growing number of bands that combines bluegrass instrumentation with rock rhythms, what makes The Staves stand out from the rest of 'em is the fact that they are a trio of women, where most of said bands tend to be either mixed gender bands or all men. The fact that all three of them sing in perfect harmony with each other could liken The Staves to being a female Crosby, Stills, and Nash. The Staves' debut song, "Tongue Behind My Teeth", has a bittersweet melody and is written in minor key, yet it is accompanied by a driving, foot tapping beat. The scathing lyrics of the song (i.e. "I'd hurt you if I could") belie the benign melody and vocals of it. One more thing, their name, The Staves, just sticks out in my mind, perhaps because of how rarely used the word "stave" is.