Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Good ol' Southern songs!!

Coincidence that both of the songs I'm reviewing for the week happen to have a country-rock sound?! Well anyway, here they are:

"California (Cast Iron Soul)" by Jamestown Revival: California might not be a Southern state, but the feel of this song is pure Southern country-rock. The song's (and band's) name might be Californian, but the members of the band are actually from Magnolia, Texas, which makes sense, given the way the song sounds. The song is basically a wistful ode to the Golden State (which I'm proud to call MY home), and how much the members of Jamestown Revival admire it. Country and bluegrass music is not exactly the first thing I think of when someone mentions California, but I suppose some of its history (the Gold Rush, for instance) might make for some apt subject matter for a song of the genre.

"Pauline Hawkins" by Drive-By Truckers: Though I've only heard a handful of songs by Drive-By Truckers, it's still pretty hard to mistake Patterson Hood's husky yet expressive vocals! Their unlikely musical blend of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Elliott Smith, along with Hood's singing, are definitive features of both the band, and their latest song, "Pauline Hawkins". At 6 and half minutes, "Pauline Hawkins" feels like a long, drawn out story at certain points, and that's pretty much what it is. Apparently Patterson Hood was inspired to write a song about a character, who happens to be named Pauline Hawkins, from Willy Vlautin's novel, "The Free". Pauline's life and job were both quite harsh, which probably explains the inner angst I felt when listening to the song!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

New songs for January 22nd, 2014

here they are:

"Blue Moon" by Beck: As the title alone indicates, "Blue Moon" is a sad song. Beck has been quite the busy man as of the past couple years, having had one single each (so far) between 2012 and 2014. All three of those songs were melancholy, and Beck's pining vocals, doleful lyrics, and swaying acoustic guitars definitely make "Blue Moon" a tearjerker. Over the past 20 years, he's proven he's far more than just a guy with a penchant for rap-rock hybrid songs with lyrical nonsense in their content. His worth as a more fragile musician seems to have come full circle with "Blue Moon", and there will probably be more to come in the near future for the '90s greatest musical chameleon!

"Coming of Age" by Foster the People: Foster the People are yet another band who never seemed to follow trends, yet wound up making big hits anyway! During the height of the success of their biggest hit to date, "Pumped Up Kicks", most alt-pop songs used guitars, and Foster the People used mostly synths (until the last minute and a half of the song). Now, it seems as though the tables have been turned for FTP. Many alt-pop songs now tend to rely more on synths than guitars, so Foster the People now have a "guitar song" on their hands with "Coming of Age". From its spacey David Bowie-ish intro to its INXS-ish guitar hooks, "Coming of Age" seems to gather its musical influences from many of the finest classic alternative-rock-meets-dance-pop musicians. "Coming of Age" also seems like it has a more consistent blend of deep in thought lyrics and progressive sound, unlike "Pumped Up Kicks", whose bouncy melody belied dark lyrics.

"Happy" by Pharrell Williams: Many of the best movies to have a song or two from their soundtrack hit the adult alt airwaves are usually ones like "Juno", "Garden State", or "Into the Wild". They aren't usually from feel-good family movies like "Despicable Me 2", which Pharrell Williams' "Happy" just happens to be from! Why this song was released to radio a little over 6 months after its initial release, I have no idea, but at least it IS getting airplay. The song "Happy" accompanies one of the most memorable scenes in "Despicable Me 2", during which the main character, Gru, has just admitted that he is head over heels in love with feisty, quirky redhead, Lucy Wilde. Naturally, this makes him, well, "happy", and the mood of the song itself is just irresistible!! You won't be able to get this song out of your head! Perhaps that's a good thing, though, considering what emotion it is intended to bring out in people!

"This Is A Game" by Nick Waterhouse: Ummmm...why is Chubby Checker spilling out of my radio all of a sudden?! And why is he playing surf guitars that sound like they might fit in well with the 1960's "Batman" theme song?! Well, I don't know, but man, I sure like this song!! It almost reminds me of the "Mermaidman And Barnacle Boy" theme song from "Spongebob Squarepants" (which itself is supposed to be a spoof of the "Batman" theme). The manic energy of this song wraps up in a matter of merely three minutes with a jazzed up howl!! Now why isn't it surfin' weather yet?! This song sure makes me wanna do something like that!!

"We're All In This Together" by Sam Roberts: The guitars seem kinda Black Keys-ish, but the piano here is in Sam's own style! In his native Canada, Sam is incredibly well known, but here in the U.S., he remains an "underground" artist. Are us Americans afraid of a little variety?! I can't really see any other reason Sam Roberts isn't a well known musician in the States, personally. None of his songs sound quite like the other, but a lot of them are pretty catchy nonetheless. He really seems to let out his inner rocker in this song. This song has apparently been compared to that of many legendary rockers, ranging from The Who to Jane's Addiction!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

New songs for January 15th, 2014

here they are:

"Bad Blood" by Bastille: In an ever growing revolution of indie-pop bands that fall between electronica and rock, Bastille joined their ranks in summer 2013 with their smash hit, "Pompeii". Their latest song, "Bad Blood", also has an electro-pop/rock sound, but its minor key sound makes it considerably darker than "Pompeii", which was written in major key. One thing that both songs have in common is that they are both about the downsides of adolescence. "Pompeii" is about disillusionment, while "Bad Blood" seems to be about losing a friend. Sometimes, to get through the darkest of times, you gotta sing about 'em too, right?!

"Digital Witness" by St. Vincent: "And you may find yourself...listening to a song by St. Vincent!!" St. Vincent's first big breakthrough might have been with the enigmatic, Bjork-ish "Cruel", but it was her project with David Byrne that seemed to really bring St. Vincent (a.k.a. Annie Clark) into the limelight with many people (including Stephen Colbert!) St. Vincent's latest song, "Digital Witness", seems to have that fun, quirky blast of electronica-meets-funk-meets-jazz-meets-rock sound that Byrne typically has, both with and without Talking Heads, so perhaps Byrne's influence rubbed off on Ms. Clark!! St. Vincent is also just as enjoyably mysterious as ever in the lyrics of "Digital Witness", with one lyrical phrase asking, "What's the point of doing anything?", and another demanding to "give (her) all of your mind"!

"Girl You Look Amazing" by Nicole Atkins: "Girl, you SOUND amazing" is more like it (though Nicole certainly looks amazing too)!! Nicole's seemingly effortless combination of disco and indie-pop really shines through on this song just as it did on her debut from 5 years ago. The song also offers an empowering message to women everywhere to have a good, healthy sense of self-esteem. It's funny I mentioned David Byrne in my previous review for this week, because the inspiration behind "Girl You Look Amazing" was (guess who?!) David Byrne!! Apparently, Nicole had a dream where the Talking Heads frontman was singing a song called "Girl You Look Amazing" at a discotheque, and she just snatched the song out of her dream and into reality!!

"Say It, Just Say It" by The Mowgli's: Is there anything The Mowgli's can't do to win people over with their charming, fun, friendly music?! Between this song and their springtime megahit, "San Francisco", I would say that the answer to that question is "no" - there's nothing these guys can't do to make me and thousands of others break into a big grin!! "Say It, Just Say It" is a love song, pure and simple, but its bouncy melody and infectious harmonies seem to make it more than that! And then there's that cute little claymation video that would melt Gumby's big green heart just watching it!! The video for the song can be viewed here:

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

First blog of the new year - Part 2 - Brand new for 2014!!

So, here are the rest of my songs for this week. Here goes:

"Bad Self Portraits" by Lake Street Dive: In 2013, the word "selfie" exploded to rather unreasonable popularity. Now, in 2014, there's a song about selfies! Well, at least that's what the title would suggest. The song is actually about the loneliness felt after a breakup, but the jazzy beat of this song would probably indicate otherwise. Actually, now that I think of it, "jazzy" isn't enough to describe this song. It also has elements of folk, soul, and indie-pop. Think of all the most talented female musicians that get played on adult alt stations, from the blues-y Susan Tedeschi, exotically alluring Florence Welch, and laid-back, folk-y Indigo Girls, and mix them all together into one sound. That's pretty much Lake Street Dive in a nutshell!

"Josephina" by Big Head Todd and The Monsters: The blues-meets-folk-meets-rock amalgam Big Head Todd and The Monsters once had in the '90s seemed to be reduced to mere folk-pop in the 2000's. Thankfully, in the 2010's, Big Head Todd and The Monsters have picked up the slack once again! Their newest song, "Josephina", has a slightly rockin', but still kinda roots-y sound that might bring to mind musicians like Dire Straits and Tom Petty. The beat of the song could be said to resemble the classic rock sound, too, particularly that of "Takin' Care of Business" by Bachman-Turner Overdrive. For those complaining that the old rock 'n' roll sound isn't around anymore, look beyond your radio dial, and listen to "Josephina" by Big Head Todd and The Monsters today!

"Southern Sun" by Boy and Bear: In fall 2011, I thought Boy and Bear would wind up being one of those indie-folk/pop bands that would hit "one-hit wonder" status with their song, "Feeding Line", since no other songs from their debut CD seemed to become well-known. Their latest song, "Southern Sun", has proven me wrong, though. It seems as though Boy and Bear have polished up their sound a bit for this song. We get a bit of the wistful folk-pop that "Feeding Line" provided in the beginning of "Southern Sun", but the rest of it seems to be a cross between the vocals of Fleet Foxes mixed with the instrumentation of Fleetwood Mac (albeit with more of an "indie" slant in the instrumentation as well). Definitely more meshing together of acoustic and electric guitars in "Southern Sun", and a more consistent guitar riff as well.

"The Devil You Know" by Tommy Castro and The Painkillers: You know a song with the word "devil" in the title is going to be energetic and brash in some way or another. "The Devil You Know" by blues-rock combo, Tommy Castro and The Painkillers, is exactly that! It is not only brash and energetic, but quite spicy as well! The guitar licks in this song are like the audio equivalent of a thick, chunky, smoky salsa! Each sizzling hook only leaves you wanting more, as Tommy Castro weaves a cautionary tale about how "when you dance with the devil, you have hell to pay". Time to set the night on fire!!

"The Moment" by Toad the Wet Sprocket: Just as "New Constellation" proved that '90s alt-pop sensations, Toad the Wet Sprocket, might be hip on the indie-pop trends of the '00s and 2010's in summer 2013, "The Moment" is out to prove the same thing for winter 2014. Each song seems to fit the respective seasons in which they were released to radio stations, too. "New Constellation" was bright and summery, but "The Moment" is a bit more melancholy and wintry. It still has a good beat, though. "The Moment" sounds like it could have been a Scars on 45 or Alpha Rev song, and its chorus, letting its listeners know that "there is nothing but the moment", goes well with the reflective mood of the bands it is trying to emulate.

New songs for the new year - part 1 - left over from 2013!!

Since I missed so much last time around, my first new blog will be a two-parter. So here goes:

“Hey Brother” by Avicii: Avicii made his name known in summer of last year with his “Mumford and Sons goes clubbin’” megahit, “Wake Me Up”. In his latest song, “Hey Brother”, the Mumford aspect is definitely still there. The “clubbin’” aspect? Well, not so much this time, until the end of the song, which is driven by a synthetic horn solo. Avicii’s pleas for love and peace in “Hey Brother” (“Do you still believe in one another?”) really resonate with me. “Deep” messages in his songs tend to be quite common, but it’s not any wonder when you consider that his stage name refers to an aspect of Buddhism.

“Kangaroo Court” by Capital Cities: And now, here’s another band who had a megahit last year with the super catchy alt-pop dance anthem, “Safe And Sound”. Capital Cities continue to get funky in their second big song, “Kangaroo Court”, perhaps even more than they did the first time around. The song shows a bit of an eccentric side to Capital Cities that wasn’t that apparent on “Safe And Sound”. First off, the title alone points it out (name one other song with the word “kangaroo” in the title!) The chorus (“Shut up, shut up, shut up, sit out, sit out, sit out, it’s a kangaroo court”) is odd, yet still memorable. It’s the music video for “Kangaroo Court” that really takes the cake, though!! Can’t get better than a bunch of weird people in animal costumes! The video can be viewed here:

“Stranger to My Happiness” by Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings: What better way to kick of a new year of blogging than with a sassy, funky blast of neo-soul that combines the Motown sound with the Stax Records sound?! This one actually came out in November 2013, but I haven’t been able to find a decent copy of the song until this year. Anyway, if you feel like you’re hearing a long lost duet between Aretha Franklin and The Temptations on “Stranger to My Happiness”, don’t be surprised. Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings really know how to keep the sound of classic ‘60s soul alive for those of us growing up during the 21st century! Though the subject matter of “Stranger to My Happiness” might be a downer (which can be indicated just from the title of the song), the song itself is most definitely not!

“Thunder Clatter” by Wild Cub: Much like a lot of the other songs for this part of this week’s blog, “Thunder Clatter”, by electronic indie-pop group, Wild Cub, has certain elements of dance-pop to it. If someone told me four years ago when I started this blog that I would have a week where I reviewed songs that were danceable, I would have thought they were nuts, yet here I am, doing exactly that! I guess it’s an acquired taste. Perhaps what sets “Thunder Clatter” apart from other indie-dance-pop songs is that it seems to have certain elements of world music in terms of its rhythm, along with the expected Modest Mouse/MGMT type influences.

“Turn It Around” by Lucius: The “-us” ending of Lucius made me think this was a band fronted by a man, but its lead singer is actually a woman. Lucius’ “Turn It Around” seems to run halfway between the blithe, bubbly indie-pop sound of Boy (best known for “Little Numbers”), and the more sophisticated alt/dance-pop of musicians like Lorde. There is definitely a dance-pop aspect to “Turn It Around”, but it also has a bit of an “indie” sound to it at the same time. “Turn It Around” is for more than just the “hipster” crowd, though, with its tight percussion section (which uses both handclaps and tambourines, in perfect synchronicity with one another), and its simple, but earworm-y chorus (“She’s looking through the wrong end of the telescope, turn it around.”)