Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Late Summer 2015 New Music Playlist

Why not rock another playlist while there are still weeks of summer left? There’s certainly enough new music on the scene to choose from. In researching my latest picks, I also discovered plenty of crazy descriptive phrases to label the bands, from electropop, indie pop and rock pop to atmospheric rock, post-rock and rocktronica. Check out whatever perks up those listening ears, be it veterans such as The Dears, Mates of State, Beirut, The Chemical Brothers and Wilco or newer groups such as Penguin Prison, FFS and Baio. Listen on Spotify via this link or as a YouTube playlist.

1. “Fixations” – Gardens & Villa
Californian indie rock band Gardens & Villa recently relocated from Santa Barbara to L.A. and downsized to two people for its third album since 2008, Music for Dogs. This kicky tune, “Fixations,” by Adam Rasmussant and Chris Lynch, demonstrates a new direction while keeping layered textures intact

2. “Staring Contest” – Mates of State
“Staring Contest” is a typical blast of fun from the indie pop couple Kori Gardner (keyboards, vocals) and Jason Hammel (percussion, vocals), musical allies since 1999. The latest release is a self-produced EP, You’re Going to Make It.

3. “No No No” – Beirut
Santa Fe native Zach Condon returns with a new batch of songs following hospitalization for exhaustion after excessive touring for his last album in 2011. This sweet ditty is the title track for the upcoming release, with a familiar worldview embedded in the instrumentation.

4. “Cream on Chrome” – Ratatat
This Brooklyn-based duo of Mike Stroud and Evan Mast just released its fifth studio album since 2001, Manifique. The single “Cream on Chrome” spotlights their quirky rocktronica instrumentals that inspire Ratatat’s signature sound.

5. “In a Future World” – Telekinesis
Drummer and songwriter Michael Benjamin Lerner took a different approach for Ad Infinitum, his third album since 2008 as Telekinesis. As a happy newlywed in Seattle, he took to the basement studio to compose songs dripping with electronica as evidenced in “In a Future World.”

6. “Island” – Surfer Blood
Surfer Blood is an alt rock quartet from West Palm Beach that just released its third album since 2009, 1000 Palms. Singer John Paul Pitts brings a laid back vibe to the vocals for the band, as demonstrated in “Island.”

7. “ I Used to Pray for the Heavens to Fall” – The Dears
Canadian indie rock band The Dears is ready with a sixth album since 1995, Times Infinity Volume One (volume two will appear shortly afterwards). Frontman Murray Lighburn leads the way through another emotional rollercoaster with this song, “I Used to Pray for the Heavens to Fall.”

8. “Some Minds (featuring Andrew Wyatt)” – Flume
Flume is the stage name of Sydney-based multi-instrumentalist and electronic music producer D.J. Harley Streten. Here he enlists Miike Snow’s Andrew Wyatt for lyrics and shadowy vocals in this stand-alone single, following a debut album back in 2012.

9. “Sensual People” – Lylas
Singer and banjo player Kyle Hamlett is the mastermind behind Nashville’s indie rock quintet Lylas since 2005. The song “Sensual People” supposedly arrived in his dreams, an enchanting tune for the upcoming second full length release.

10. “Gone” – JR JR
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. changed its name after five years to JR JR and recently released this feel-good single, “Gone,” in advance of a third album. The Detroit indie pop twosome of Daniel Zott and Josh Epstein is clearly ready to keep the party going, whatever the moniker.

11. “Call Girl” – FFS
The single “Call Girl” is a result of collaborative recording sessions between Scottish indie rock band Franz Ferdinand and the L.A. rock pop brothers pair, Sparks (Ron and Russell Mael). Songs on the self-titled album revel in heavy hooks and a collective swagger found in this supergroup.

12. “Calling Out” – Penguin Prison
Penguin Prison is the electropop musical project of singer, musician, producer and remixer Chris Glover since 2008. “Calling Out” is the exuberant sing along single from his second album, Lost in New York.

13. “Random Name Generator” – Wilco
Wilco dropped a ninth album without fanfare, Star Wars, that’s full of the gritty alternative rock this Chicago-based group is famous for after two decades. With singer Jeff Tweedy’s undercurrent of vocals, “Random Name Generator” churns along with relentless persistence.

14. “Sister of Pearl” –Baio
Chris Baio, known as the bass player for Vampire Weekend, is releasing a solo debut of his dance music as he also keeps busy as a D.J. and record producer. This tune “Sister of Pearl” is a fun introduction to the new debut, The Names.

15. “Wide Open (featuring Beck)” – The Chemical Brothers
British electronic dance music partners since 1991, Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons are back with an eighth album, Born in the Echoes. They entrust the vocals to Beck for “Wide Open,” just one of the many rock star appearances in the collection.

16. “Sparks” – Beach House
The song’s genesis is a vocal loop captured during a sound check before a Beach House concert. It serves as a bewitching introduction to the upcoming fifth album, Depression Cherry, by the Baltimore-based dream pop duo of Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand.

17. “All Yours” – Widowspeak
Molly Hamilton (guitarist and vocalist) and guitarist Robert Earl Thomas of Widowspeak recently traveled upstate from Brooklyn to record new songs in a barn. “All Yours” is a winsome title track for the upcoming release, the band’s fourth album since 2010.

18. “No Comprende” – Low
Low is an indie rock trio from Duluth, Minnesota, known for slow tempos and spare arrangements for great effect. “No Comprende” lucidly continues that mantra as featured on an upcoming eleventh album, Ones and Sixes.

19. “Sad Heart of Mine” – Caspian
Beverly, Massachusetts instrumental post-rock band Caspian is getting ready to release its fifth studio album since 2005, Dust and Disquiet. The group strives to convey a story in music, much more than just presenting building blocks of sound.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

New Song by Maximum Balloon, "Let It Grow" (From Upcoming Album)

Dave Sitek of Maximum Balloon has released a new song from an upcoming sophomore album, "Let It Grow," a sweet, melodic tune already getting airplay on my favorite online new music sources KEXP and KCRW.  There is no title or release date yet from Sitek's label, Federal Prism Records, so this will have to hold us for the moment.

Maximum Balloon is Sitek's side project away from being a producer and guitarist for TV on the Radio and straight up producing bands such as Beady Eye, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Foals. It is the first new material since a track from the self-titled debut landed on my Fall 2010 New Music Playlist ("Apartment Wrestling" featuring vocals by David Byrne). Sitek reenlists other collaborators on that album for "Let It Grow" -- Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and TV on the Radio frontman Tunde Adebimpe. The mood is all soft lighting and hushed singing as Karen O. performs in the love-soaked lullaby mode of her recent album Crush Songs or "The Moon Song" for the movie Her.  Adebimpe matches her tone, letting lyrical lines float gently into place. Take a listen here or on the label's SoundCloud page. It won't be the last time you'll want to hear the song.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

New Songs by Peter Bjorn and John on NPR's "World Cafe" (Album in the Works)

World Cafe session (Photo via XPN by Joachim Belaleff)
Swedish indie pop trio Peter Bjorn and John (PB&JK) recently recorded a live session that aired on NPR's "World Cafe" yesterday from the X-Level Studio in Stockholm. I hadn't heard anything from the band since 2011's popular Gimme Some, with the single "Second Chance" finding its way on TV in several commercials and even as a theme song. Tracks appeared on my Late Spring 2011 Playlist and I caught them on tour in support of the album during a raucous show at the Bowery Ballroom, which easily made its way on to my top 25 concert list.

The live session began with older songs such as "Second Chance" with "Amsterdam" and "Ice," providing an instant reminder about why this is one of my favorite bands. These songs are filled with pop hooks and bouncy grooves that carry the listener to a musical wonderland. During the interview with host David Dye, Peter Morén, Björn Yttling and John Eriksson admitted that this album is taking twice as long as they expected as many songs were scrapped half way through the process. They also spoke about the music scene in Stockholm as tight knit and extremely healthy. Three new songs were then offered up for preview, "a subdued ballad called "Breaking Point," along with the more up tempo and familiar sounding "Do Si Do" and "Objects of My Affection" (even bringing back whistling like the 2006 hit song "Youngfolks"!) Check things out here or on NPR's "World Cafe" website. Videos and a free download are also promised over at the program's Tumbler page. Now if the band would only finish up and release the album...

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

New Song by The Dears, "I Used to Pray for the Heavens to Fail" (New Album Out September 25)

The Dears (Photo Courtesy Big Hassle Media)

Montreal band The Dears have announced not one but two albums on the way, with the first new song ready for a preview. The band returns using typical thoughtful prose for a title, "I Used to Pray for the Heavens to Fail," and the sound is straight out of the gate epic. With lush, dense instrumentation that infuses the tune with orchestral pop rock flourishes, founder and singer Murray Lightburn takes us on yet another musical journey. The new album, Times Infinity Volume One, is due September 25 via Dangerbird Records, with additional material spilling into Times Infinity Volume Two, out in early 2016.

It is the first album since 2011's Degeneration Street, the group's fifth release since 1995. A fan of the band already, I caught the band on tour around that time and the single "Omega Dog" found its way on my Winter 2011 New Music Playlist. Back then I also had the opportunity to interview keyboardist and Lightburn's wife Natalia Yanchak for PopMatters, when she was a new mother. I know well that during that time of life keeping any sort of side projects going is not easy, much less being in a band. But over the past two years, the process began again and things began to click into place musically. As Lightburn says, "When you start a band, you never think of the end. When we began work on this album, it was a process that consumed us completely, harkening back to our earliest days. In turn, the record became about sentimentality but in the face of great uncertainty; the concept of eternal love and all its fragility." With those words, take a listen to the song here or on Soundcloud and be ready to be moved beyond the surface into deep emotions -- something The Dears always do so well.

Monday, July 13, 2015

New Song by Gardens & Villa, "Fixations" (New Album Out August 21 & NYC Tour Date September 25)

Adam Rasmussan (left) & Chris Lynch (Photo Courtesy Secretly Canadian)
Gardens & Villa is one of those bands that are simply interesting to listen to, so I jumped on the new single "Fixations" from the upcoming third album Music for Dogs (due August 21 via Secretly Canadian). The sound is multi-layered and quirky, without any alienating thoughts of mainstream acceptance: "Colony Glen" from the group's last album Dune was an easy pick for my Winter 2014 New Music Playlist and "Black Hills" off the self-titled debut was featured on my Winter 2012 New Music Playlist.

This self-categorized indie rock band was formed in Santa Barbara in 2008, but has recently downsized to a duo and re-located to L.A. Adam Rasmussan and Chris Lynch found warehouse space in the Frogtown neighborhood, christened it Space Command and opened it up to visual artists and designers along with other creatives. They set about creating the new album with Dusty Ineman on drums, Shane McKillop on bass and Unknown Mortal Orchestra's Jacob Portait as producer. New songs were infused with disparate influences such as Brian Eno's Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy, David Bowie's Low, Bill Nelson's Chimera and Cleaners from Venus. Check out the video for the single "Fixations" here or on YouTube -- it's a parody of modern party life excesses complete with e-cigs, drones and colorful drugs, while Sam France of Foxygen makes an appearance on a Segway. Their label calls the music full of "Zen Pop-Nihilism" if you're looking for some sort of description, but I say just let your ears dig in. Also catch Gardens & Villa live in NYC on September 25 at the Music Hall of Williamsburg.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Summer 2015 New Music Playlist

Hurray for summer! Of all the seasons, this one simply demands a soundtrack of fresh tunes to rock the warm weather.  This playlist kicks off with a surprise treat from Beck with other outtakes from sessions by The National and St. Vincent. Many newer bands are back with solid second albums: De Lux, Oberhofer, and Motopony. Plus check out songs off debut albums (Avid Dancer, Grounders, Boxed In, Black Rivers, Jamie xx) and more. Link to listen on Spotify or as a YouTube Playlist.


1. “Dreams” − Beck
Beck has tossed aside that folky hat and is back on the dance floor with this single from an unnamed album to follow up last year’s Grammy-winning Morning Phase.  The song cranks up immediately with a killer electric guitar riff, sturdy back beat and echoing vocals that drop in, out, and around – carousing for over five minutes.

2.  “Oh Man the Future” De Lux
L.A. synth pop duo De Lux is back with a sophomore album called Generation.  This tune layers vocalist Sean Guerin’s wacky ramblings (first written on his phone’s notepad) over a fun groove and irresistible melody in the chorus.

3.  “Not Far to Go” – Avid Dancer
The psych pop of L.A. band Avid Dancer is courtesy of Jacob Summers, an ex-Marine and world champ at rudimental snare drumming.  “Not Far to Go” is off the debut album 1st Bath.

4. “Burning for No One” – The Cribs
English indie rock band The Cribs has released a sixth album since 2002, For All My Sisters, with the help of producer Ric Ocasek.  This single flaunts the trio of brothers’ signature taut punk sound.

5. “Sedona” – Houndmouth
Houndmouth is a folk rock quartet hailing from New Albany, Indiana. This infectious tune is off the group’s second album since 2011, Little Neon Limelight.

6. “Daylights Gone” – Motopony
Seattle’s self-proclaimed “hard-soul/glitch-folk” band Motopony has released a sophomore album, Welcome You.  “Daylights Gone” serves as the single with call out vocals by Daniel Blue to join in the musical jam.

7. “Sunshine on My Back” – The National
American indie rock band The National was formed in Cincinnati in 1999 and is now based in Brooklyn after six albums. This single from the Trouble Will Find Me (2013) sessions features Sharon Van Etten backing up singer/lyricist Matt Berninger in his characteristic low-key approach to vocalizing.

8. “I’m In Love With My Life” – PHASES
PHASES (formerly Jjamz) is an indie pop band from L.A. with former Phantom Planet singer Alex Greenwald. His home experiments using an outdated version of GarageBand provided the foundation for this catchy single from a future album. 

9. “Memory Remains” – Oberhofer
Brooklyn based musician Brad Oberhofer is ready to release his band’s sophomore album in August, titled Chronovision. This single illustrates the musical power of full throttle singing over psych rock leanings.

10. “All Your Love Is Gone” – Boxed In
British producer Oli Bayston is the mastermind behind the new band Boxed In, earning praise with this single off a self-titled debut album.  The song luxuriates in a multi-layered synth soundtrack and Bayston’s moody vocals.

11. “Loud Places” – Jamie xx
Jamie xx is the stage name for Jamie Smith, a music producer, remix artist, and member of the English indie band the xx.  His debut solo album, In Colour, is filled with a deft electronic touch (here with the help of band mate Romy Madley Croft on vocals).

12. “The Ship” – Black Rivers
Brothers Jez and Andy Williams were two-thirds of the English rock band Doves from 1999 until the band went on hiatus in 2009.  They have now joined together in a new musical project Black Rivers. “The Ship” exhibits the same emotive sweep of song just like the Doves.

13. “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone” – Unknown Moral Orchestra
Portland based singer, guitarist and songwriter Ruban Nielson focuses on a downfall of modern love with this single from the band’s third studio album since 2010, Multi-love.  It’s a swanky, ironic composition about long distance yearnings.

14. “Secret Friend” – Grounders
Toronto quartet Grounders offers an easy vibe for this single off the band’s self-titled debut album.  The haze of low-fi production does not mitigate the melodic pull of the tune.

15. “The Chase” – Future Islands
Baltimore based synth pop band Future Islands has released a few singles in between albums (four since 2008). “The Chase” highlights passionate, gravelly vocals by Samuel T. Herrig, with floating electronic chords, guitar lines, and drums providing steady musical support.

16. “Teenage Talk” – St. Vincent
Annie Clark a.k.a. St. Vincent had this single left over from the sessions for her last Grammy-nominated album (2014’s self titled St. Vincent). It’s a sweet, nostalgic tune with this multi-talented artist as a more straightforward storyteller.

17. “Sagras” − The Tallest Man on Earth
Indie folk Swedish songwriter Kristian Matsson is known for recording and producing his own material since 2005, but for his fourth album as The Tallest Man on Earth he utilized a full band for almost every track.  “Sagras” shows the resulting lush instrumental backing, while Matsson’s vocals still command attention.

18.  “Home” – Barbarossa
Barbarossa is the musical project of London multi-instrumentalist James Mathé, enlisting the vocals of Swedish singer José González for this haunting tune. (They are band mates together in the group Junip).  The minimalist electronics of “Home” is from a third album, Imager.

1. The Cribs – Gary & Ryman Jarman
2. The National – Bryce & Aaron Dessner
3. Black Rivers – Jez & Andy Williams

Monday, June 22, 2015

Contemporary Color @ Barclays Center This Weekend June 27 & 28 - David Byrne Curates a Rock Jam Spectacular

The other day I heard the Talking Heads' "Once in a Lifetime" on KEXP which took me back to the days of early MTV's short playlist and Tony Basil's choreography capturing David Byrne's manic angularity without messing with the pure magic of this iconic song.  When I realized it was the live version, I was back at Forest Hills aglow from the group's conceptually creative concert as captured in film for Stop Making Sense. (I wrote about the doc's 30th anniversary in a post last fall.) My mind then flashed forward in time through concerts in 1995 (?), 2001 and 2009 plus Here Lies Love (2013) along with my many run ins with David Byrne in the city and lately at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, known as BAM. My first article for PopMatters about my love of online radio was picked up by his website five years ago -- probably my proudest moment in writing. I was also recently tapped to write about his collaboration with BAM and the Barclays Center, Contemporary Color, to appear in the BAMbill and BAM Blog (found online here).

While I've seen many other media outlets pick up the story, so much is focused on the genius of Byrne and the visual showcase of ten color guard teams but hardly mentioning half of the rock stars that will be providing the soundtrack. I'm sure they were all pleased to get the call to join in and have since been going the extra mile to compose an original piece of music for the project. Here's a video of Merrill Garbus of TUnE-yArDs (and fellow Smith grad) meeting with her color guard team Emanon for the first time. Check this varied list of artists below, visit or read my BAM write up for more info, and grab some tickets. For me, Contemporary Color is going to be yet another momentous musical moment with David Byrne.

After the show with my musical hero once again...
David Byrne
Nelly Furtado
How To Dress Well
Devonté Hynes
Zola Jesus
Nico Muhly + Ira Glass
Money Mark + Ad-Rock
St. Vincent