Thursday, March 28, 2013

New songs for March 28th, 2013

Hi everyone! Sorry I missed out on posting some songs to review here yesterday but I was a bit busier than I expected to be. Anyway, I'm not as busy now, so here are this week's latest songs. Enjoy!

"I Wonder" by Brittany Howard (from Alabama Shakes) and Ruby Amanfu: Sixto Rodriguez (better known simply by his last name), the 1960's folk-rock musician who was barely known in the U.S. until the documentary "Searching For Sugar Man" came out, doesn't seem like he'd be very likely to have someone influenced by soul and jazz, like Alabama Shakes' Brittany Howard, covering his work, but now she has, along with singer/songwriter Ruby Amanfu. Considering what a soul inflected beat the original song has (slightly reminiscent of John Lennon's "Nobody Told Me"), it's definitely a more fitting choice for a Brittany Howard cover song than, say, the more folk-rock-y, sedate song, "Sugar Man", which could be said to be Rodriguez' other "hit". Towards the middle of Brittany's version of "I Wonder", the song segues into a reggae beat, perhaps simply because she and/or Ruby Amanfu wanted it to sound that way, as there is nothing remotely Marley-esque about any of Rodriguez' music. Another way that this version of "I Wonder" can be distinguished from its more gentle, baroque-ish 1960's counterpart is by its use of fuzzed out, Dan Auerbach-ish blues-garage rock electric guitar sound. One more thing worth mentioning is that this is the second time that Alabama Shakes' lead singer has been associated with an indie flick ("Searching For Sugar Man"), the first being "Silver Linings Playbook", with Alabama Shakes' "Always Alright" being her contribution to that film.

"Just Make It Stop" by Low: Like The Killers, Low are one of the rare indie/alt bands that just happen to be Mormon. Unlike The Killers, Low have never made even the slightest attempt to sound commercial. Low are a band that seem to live up to their name, in a couple ways. Their ranking is probably "low" as far as how well-known they are, and their sound is also pretty "low" (as opposed to upbeat). Yet none of these factors have stopped Low from making music, and thank goodness for that! Their latest song, "Just Make It Stop", sounds like Cowboy Junkies' Margo Timmins singing lead vocals for a Bon Iver song. It is never made quite clear what "it" is in "Just Make It Stop", but it probably refers to depression or some other negative emotion, considering how detached both the music and the vocals sound for this song. In spite of its gloomy nature, though, "Just Make It Stop" is actually a catchy song, in its own, weird way, and it is also written in major key. Perhaps that's why it's getting more attention than most of Low's other material.

"Love Has Come For You" by Edie Brickell and Steve Martin: Did you ever think it was possible for a wisecracking goofball like Steve Martin to have a chance with a more artfully minded, reserved person like Edie Brickell?! I'm guessing you probably thought it was about as likely as Jim Carrey doing a project with Natalie Merchant. That's what I thought, until I heard this song! For those who forgot (or simply didn't know), Steve Martin once had a bluegrass band called The Steep Canyon Rangers, which is probably why his (and Edie's) song, "Love Has Come For You" sounds like something that came straight from the "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack! While bluegrass music is nothing new for Steve Martin, "Love Has Come For You" marks what is perhaps the first time since his late '70s novelty hit, "King Tut", that he has had a specific song that has gotten noticed by certain radio stations. As for Edie Brickell, jumping from folk-rock (even that of a more jazzy, "alternative" nature, like "What I Am") to bluegrass really isn't that far of a stretch if you stop and think about it!

"Love to Get Used" by matt pond PA: Yet another indie rock tale about love gone wrong. Matt pond (whose first and last name are both lowercase, like k.d. lang and e.e. cummings) has been writing songs like this long before it became a trend in indie music, though. There are also certain ways matt tries to keep it real in this song, too, from what I can see. For instance, the chorus of the song mentions the names of birds (blackbirds and hawks, specifically), but it is unknown as to why the birds' names are being evoked in the song, which gives the listener a lot more to think about when hearing the song than just pontificating over lovelorn emotions. Also, the two verses of the song both open with the words, "in Athabasca", the name of a Canadian university, which brings matt closer to the ranks of bands like Vampire Weekend, who name dropped Oxford in their "Oxford Comma" (though that is probably a much better known university than Athabasca, at least here in the U.S. it is).

"99 Shades of Crazy" by JJ Grey and Mofro: 99 shades of crazy?! That's almost twice the amount of shades of grey (and a whole heck of a lotta crazy, too!!) JJ Grey and Mofro have always had a thing for blues and jazz music, but this song pushes them slightly closer to rock 'n' roll, with its driving beat, chunky guitars, and its almost Stones-y take on organ driven R & B music. I'm thinking that the kind of "crazy" mentioned in the song might the kind of "cool" crazy one hears of in beatnik poetry and jazz music, especially considering that JJ is referring to HIMSELF (as opposed to an object of his affections) as "99 Shades of Crazy". Now that I think of it, this song could be as many shades of crazy as it is shades of rock 'n' roll! I already mentioned the Stones influence in this song, but I can also detect some Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin influence (another review I read of this song even brought up how the song sounds like it could have been from 1970's rock group, Grand Funk Railroad). Well that's four shades of "crazy" right there. Maybe I'll let you know what the other 95 are when I have time to figure 'em out!!

"Nothing Arrived" by Villagers: An "existential indie rock quandary" might be a good way to describe this song. The oddly worded but curious chorus of the song states that The Villagers' lead singer, "waited for something, and something died", so his solution was to "wait for nothing, and nothing arrived". Almost seems like what you'd get if you mixed Radiohead's "Karma Police" with Samuel Beckett's "Waiting For Godot". Radiohead's Mr. Yorke and literature's Mr. Beckett might seem like they're worlds apart, but I think that, in their own way, they were both philosophers of their time, and music can be a philosophical medium, so it's not much of a surprise, really, that the seemingly distant lands of rock music and philosophy met up with each other in The Villagers' "Nothing Arrived". It's still quite a cosmic, profound meeting of the minds though, I must say!

"Safe And Sound" by Capital Cities: Mixing electronica and rock has become somewhat of a trend in indie rock music, especially in bands like Phoenix, The Postal Service, and Foster the People. There doesn't seem to be a "rock" element in Capital Cities' "Safe And Sound", though, it just seems to be pure electronica, which I ordinarily do not like. Yet SOMETHING has me drawn to this song! What, though?! Perhaps part of it is how it has a soothing sound, in spite of its artificial beats and pulsating synths. Another thing I like about it is how a brass instrument gets thrown into the mix seemingly at random, yet it actually fits in with the rest of the song! It almost sounds like what it would be like if The Human League's "Don't You Want Me?" got a British dance hall makeover! Not too fond of any of those sorts of things either, so, again, I must ask myself, why DO I like this song?! I guess I'll never know!!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

New songs for the first day of spring!

Happy First of Spring everyone!! Here are two songs that will hopefully get you in the mood for the season:

"Diane Young" by Vampire Weekend: It's Elvis! It's The Police! It's The Black Keys! No, it's Vampire Weekend!! And they've got a brand new song that kinda sounds like a combination of the three musicians I just mentioned. The "Elvis" in question is Presley, for those wondering, not Costello (though knowing VW, they were probably influenced by him here as well). "Diane Young" is a unique, catchy song that somehow manages to sound as "retro" as it does current! One minute you're hearing rockabilly beats and surf guitars, and by the next, you're hearing more of a fuzzed out garage rock sound backed by a beat box. The name "Diane Young" in the song is actually a play on words of the phrase "dyin' young". What a clever bunch Ezra Koenig and company turned out to be!

"Recovery" by Frank Turner: Frank Turner's somewhat ordinary name belies his extraordinary talent! This ex-punk-rocker turned folk-rocker's latest song, "Recovery", has sped up both the adult alt charts and regular alt charts within a week, and it's not hard to see why once you listen to it! The lyrics are delivered in a dry but catchy manner, and include memorably offbeat lines like "And like every boring blues song I get swallowed by the pain, so I fumble for your figure in the darkness just to make it go away". Its sound is like a cross between Ben Folds and Oasis, but there's still enough of a "current" sound in the song to balance out its '90s alt-pop influences. To top it all off, the chorus of the song is one of the most irresistible choruses I have heard in a long time! No complaints about this song, except, why couldn't this guy have chosen a cooler stage name than "Frank Turner"?! Oh well, still a great song nonetheless!!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A "light" entry

I can't resist a good ol' bad pun, what can I say?! This week's pun comes from the "light" amount of songs (only two), and how the word "phosphorescent" and the prefix "lumi-" both refer to "light" (as in light of the sun). Anyway here are today's songs. Enjoy!

"Song For Zula" by Phosphorescent: "Grey's Anatomy" has promoted quite a few adult alt songs into more popular territory, but I know few that are as beautiful (or as long) as "Song For Zula", the debut song from the band Phosphorescent. Its lush string laden sound combined with its echo-y drums recall Daniel Lanois, who was best known for producing some of the more atmospheric, poignant songs from U2. I don't know who (or what) "Zula" is, but he/she/it must have been pretty special in the band's life in order to make a song that both tugs at the heartstrings, and one that's over 6 minutes long. The length of this song is truly a rarity in 21st century music, and arguably, so is the song itself! Highly recommended!!

"Submarines" by The Lumineers: Two guys, a girl, and some of the catchiest folk-rock tunes that ever existed! That would be a good way to describe the Denver trio known as The Lumineers. "Submarines" continues the trend they have with catchy songs, but it veers in a different direction than "Ho Hey" and "Stubborn Love". Where the two aforementioned songs centered around guitars, "Submarines" centers around piano. A comparison to Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros could easily be drawn to "Submarines" because of the quasi lo-fi recording techniques the song has, combined with its sweet harmonies and unusual subject matter. The friendly sound of "Ho Hey" sounded a little like a children's song to me when I first heard it, but "Submarines" hones in that kiddie sound even more. In fact, I'd say it sounds little like another band who did a children's music influenced song about submarines that were the same color as the sun!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

New songs for March 6th, 2013

here they are:

"Bang Bang, Boom Boom" by Beth Hart: Beth debuted back in the early 2000's with the Alanis Morissette-ish "L.A. Song", but I would think that that's a song she'd rather forget about, because ever since then, she's gone in a more blues-y, jazzy direction. Her latest song, "Bang Bang, Boom Boom", takes her brand of blues-rock in a direction that is rarely touched upon in music these days. Instead of using the guitar as the dominant instrument, the piano takes center stage for "Bang Bang, Boom Boom", and it works really well in this song, too! Instead of using the piano in a delicate, fragile manner, Beth puts it to use as though it's a seductive instrument being used in a cabaret or a nightclub. The syncopation in the song is set to a marching rhythm, adding yet another element to "Bang Bang, Boom Boom" that makes it one hot firecracker of a song!

"Grace For Saints And Ramblers" by Iron and Wine: As you might expect, Iron & Wine's latest song is a folk-rock song. What you might not have expected is for that song to be a happy one instead of a sad one. "Grace For Saints And Ramblers", the most recent song from IAW, has more orchestration than most of the songs from Sam Beam's one man band. The combination of acoustic guitars with sax and violins is closer to recent indie-pop stars like Regina Spektor and Belle & Sebastian than it is to IAW's usual influences, such as the more somber, stark folk-rock of Nick Drake and Elliott Smith. The lyrics are pure abstraction (for instance, "Bodies full of penny wishes, parties full of pretty dishes, side by side with the birds and bees"...Huh?!), but at least it shows that Sam Beam is more of a free spirit than his fans might like to think he is!

"Hacienda Motel" by Pickwick: Pickwick's sound is probably a bit too close to bands like Modest Mouse and Dr. Dog to be as memorable as their rhyming name, but their back story is still an interesting one! Originally their sound was closer to a neo-folk-rock type, a la Ryan Adams, Wilco, and My Morning Jacket, but they wanted to change things up a bit for themselves once they found out that pretty much everyone was trying to sound like that, so they decided to go with more of an "alternative soul" sound instead. "Hacienda Motel", the first song so far to get attention from Pickwick, was like a "bridge song" for the band, because it officially marked the point when they quit on folk-rock, and started up on the indie-pop world's answer to neo-soul. What can I say, it never hurts to try something different!

"Staying Alive" by The Whigs: Before I review this song, I'd like to issue a warning to any Bee Gees fans that might be reading this review. This song is NOT a cover of The Bee Gees' "Staying Alive", it's a completely different song!! Now that I've gotten that out of the way, on with the song. Like The Whigs' previous song, "Waiting", "Staying Alive" boasts a blues-y brand of indie rock comparable to bands like The Hold Steady and The Gaslight Anthem, both of whom can be described as a "missing link" between Bruce Springsteen and The Replacements. "Staying Alive" could be said to be even more Springsteen-ian than The Hold Steady or The Gaslight Anthem, since it has a soulful sax solo that the late Clarence Clemons would probably be proud of if he got the chance to hear it! Not exactly the longest song in the world, and nor is it too heavy on lyrics, but "Staying Alive" still manages to be the perfect combination of gritty, working class roots rock and soulful, spirited jazz-rock!

"The Stars Are Out Tonight" by David Bowie: For a rocker that has been around for nearly 4 decades now, Bowie is still making waves to this very day with his music!! As was the case with his "Where Are We Now" from January of this year, "The Stars Are Out Tonight" is the most heavily anticipated song of this week, as far as material on the adult alt charts goes!! "The Stars Are Out Tonight" has a bit more of a psychedelic influenced sound than the almost crooner-ish sound of "Where Are We Now?", but it still manages to sound like nothing I've ever heard! This song is just more proof of what a "chameleon" Bowie truly is when it comes to how many styles of rock (and popular music in general, really) he has covered. The theme of stars in the song is also interesting, as it could reflect both Bowie's lifelong fascination with outer space, or it could also mean "stars" as in "celebrities". The world may never know!!