Friday, April 25, 2014

Unearthed Gem of a Song: "Life's What You Make It" By Talk Talk

This pick, "Life's What You Make It" by English new wave band Talk Talk, appeared on my radar again thanks to a daily listening habit of "John In the Morning" on KEXP.  As music instantly does, hearing it again took me right back to the 80s when my life stretched out ahead and decisions demanded some sort of path.  From the thumping bass line to singer Mark Hollis' undulating, emotional vocals, the tune is a good reminder that life is indeed what you make it -- wherever you are on your own personal road.  Talk Talk's other big hit also took on the big picture, extolling individual purpose with "It's My Life." It was revisited with great success by No Doubt in 2003 (video here) and I was glad to hear it enjoy a second life, while also having another reason to delve into the original.

This video for "Life's What You Make It" has the band at their instruments, with floppy hair and wearing what is now considered Mom jeans. Since they were essentially trio for a decade (from 1981 to 1991), I suppose I'll forgive them for not inviting a guitar player for those epic hooks or anyone else to trigger those luscious synth layers that were so emblematic of the 80s. The song was the single for Talk Talk's third album, The Colour of Spring, from 1986.

Set the time machine and enjoy the video on YouTube or below!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

YouTube Playlist of Spring 2014 Playlist Songs

The Spring 2014 New Music Playlist solicited mostly official videos from YouTube, from the psychedelic swirls of Thumpers, Cage the Elephant and Phantogram to the travelogue pastiche of Kelis and a dystopian future courtesy of St. Vincent. There's a collage of club life for Polock's song "Everlasting," kids making bad decisions for Ages and Ages' "Divisionary (Do the Right Thing)" and a tongue in cheek dance off via Wye Oak's "The Tower." Mr. Little Jeans brings a grim tale of a trucker for "Bad Mistake" and Courtney Barnett's malaise is made manifest on a clay tennis court. And check out Lost In the Trees' glowing eyes and headlights for "Past Life," along with Sharon Van Etten's enigmatic tarot card reading.

Included here is the much discussed performance of Future Islands on David Letterman with the host gushing afterwards (and rightly so), declaring "That was wonderful!" Samuel T. Herrig's groovy moves and impassioned performance underscores yet again the importance of eye contact when selling a song. There's also the confident SNL appearance by Beck, singing one of his new songs that gave rise to my husband/music biz veteran Paul to exclaim at first listen, "Who broke Beck's heart?" Other live versions provided are a low tech WFUV studio gig by Real Estate and a fan video from a record release party for Maxïmo Park, emblematic of the various conditions faced by musicians.

Link to listen and watch here or click video below.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Spring 2014 New Music Playlist

With spring finally making an appearance, there’s plenty of news songs for another playlist thanks to the constant renewal of the music scene. Bands such as Cage the Elephant, Wye Oak and Real Estate are back with album releases along with Future Islands and Lost in the Trees. Female voices abound on this playlist, from Annie Clark of St. Vincent and Kelis, to Courtney Barnett, Sharon Van Etten and Monica Birkenes of Mr. Little Jeans.  Also check out new music from veteran bands Elbow and Maxïmo Park, along with indie heavyweight Beck. Link to listen here, enjoy!

1. “Unkinder (A Tougher Love)” – Thumpers
This boisterous tune makes a great introduction to this new duo from England, recently formed by childhood friends Marcus Pepperell and John Hamson Jr. “Unkinder (A Tougher Love)” is the standout track of the band’s debut album, Galore.

2. “Come a Little Closer” – Cage the Elephant
Kentucky alt rock band Cage the Elephant is back with its third album, Melophobia.  Matt Shultz's singing bring an appealing boy next door approach to rocking out, sounding familiar without ever boring fans in this single, “Come a Little Closer.”

3. “Seasons Waiting On You” – Future Islands
This synth pop band from Baltimore met while studying art in college and just released a fourth studio album, Singles.  This single, “Seasons Waiting On You,” highlights the unhinged vocals of Samuel T. Herrig to bring emotional weight to the song.

4. “Avant Gardener” – Courtney Barnett
Australian Courtney Barnett is a songwriter and guitarist, using a wry delivery in her stream of conscious lyrics for “Avant Gardener.” This young musician combined two past EPs to create A Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas, where “Avant Gardner” is found.

5. “Digital Witness” – St. Vincent
Annie Clark is the mastermind behind St. Vincent, creating songs with a dense musicality, complex instrumentation and multiple meanings.  Hailing from Oklahoma and Texas before touring with The Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens, Clark has just released a self-titled fourth album with this searing tune about the internet age.

6. “Divisionary (Do the Right Thing)” – Ages and Ages
Ages and Ages is an eight-member group of multi-instrumentalists from Portland, offering up sing along songs such as “Divisionary (Do the Right Thing).”  This heartfelt composition that builds with every chorus is off of the band’s second album, also titled Divisionary.

7. “The Tower” – Wye Oak
Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack formed Wye Oak in Baltimore but composed this song for their fourth studio album, Shriek, across the country from each other. “The Tower” brings an expanded music palette to the group’s indie folk sound, as Wasner admits to being newly inspired by learning bass.

8. “Everlasting” – Polock
The quintet Polock returns with a sophomore album, Rising Up, with an indie pop sound that conjures up comparisons as a Spanish Phoenix. The song “Everlasting” sets a festive mood with dance beats galore and crooning vocals by Papu Sebastián.

9. “Drinking Martinis” – Maxïmo Park
This British alt rock quintet was formed in 2000 with a pop sensibility for songwriting as transmitted by singer Paul Smith. “Drinking Martinis” is a wistful rock song about parties of the past from the band’s fifth album, Too Much Information.

10. “Jerk Ribs” – Kelis
“Jerk Ribs is a single from Food, the sixth album from Kelis since 1999.  Raised in Harlem, this singer-songwriter weaves together a 1990s vibe of electro dance, soul, and Afrobeat for a contemporary mix as produced by Dave Sitek of TV On The Radio.

11. “Fall In Love” – Phantogram
This synth pop duo, Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel, write and record in a remote barn in upstate New York. “Fall In Love” is a confident new song with psychedelic musical swirls from the group’s second album, Voices.

12. “Had To Hear” – Real Estate
Brooklyn via New Jersey indie band Real Estate recently released its third album since 2009, Atlas.  As the lead track, “Had To Hear” ushers in the signature laid back, low fi sound awash in hazy vocals and guitar lines.

13. “Past Life” – Lost in the Trees
Lost in the Trees (from Chapel Hill, North Carolina) went from being a sextet to a quartet and discovered a leaner sound for its fourth album, Past Life.  This title track combines a soaring melody over a pulsing percussive foundation that develops with each chorus, until a guitar solo bursts things wide open.

14.  “Taking Chances” – Sharon Van Etten
Sharon Van Etten is another Brooklyn artist by way of suburban New Jersey, crafting songs to allow her earthy voice to soar. She just released her fourth album since 2009, Are We There, with this scorcher of a slow-sizzle single, “Taking Chances.”

15. “Good Mistake” – Mr. Little Jeans
Norwegian dance-pop singer/songwriter Monica Birkenes has released a debut full-length album as Mr. Little Jeans called Pocketknife. “Good Mistake” kicks things off with fun synth beats and squiggles, before her cooing vocals take command of the song.

16. “Blue Moon” – Beck
L.A. native Beck returned to the band aesthetic for his twelfth studio album since 1993, Morning Phase, which serves as a sonic bookend to Sea Change (2002).  “Blue Moon” is just one of the lush, contemplative tunes found on this new compilation.

17. “New York Morning” – Elbow
The U.K. band Elbow is back with its sixth studio album since 1997, The Take Off and Landing of Everything. “New York Morning” uses lyrics from a diary written by singer Guy Garvey during a trip to New York City, with his passionate voice expressing the singular view of a wide-eyed visitor.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Mistaken For Strangers Movie With The National -- A Musical Tale Of Ties That Connect

It took me a while to realize the significance of the title for the movie, Mistaken For Strangers, which follows The National on its breakout tour in 2010. This is really a love story of family bonds and a band of brothers, as told through the life of Tom and Matt Berninger.  Although nine years apart and physical opposites, they still share the same wispy blond hair, beady ice blue eyes and sinewy noses worthy of a caricature. And as those who have experienced parenthood learn firsthand, the film explores the notion of individuality as it begins at birth.

The music of The National has always struck a deep, emotional chord in me -- much to do with Matt Berninger's signature, mellow-to-the-core vocals. This compilation of raw footage does not shy away from his dark moods, as well as the entire band's commitment to the music. I was at the Brooklyn Academy of Music tour stop and remember feeling thrilled that they were blowing up as a group, yet worried about their personal psyches at the same time. This movie captures that fragile moment in time, when those rock star dreams really did start coming true after the critically acclaimed album, High Violet. The National certainly looked comfortable on the huge festival stage when I caught them last fall at the ACL Music Festival in Austin and their latest album, Trouble Will Find Me, was an easy pick as one of my Top Ten Releases of 2013.

While the movie is now available on iTunes, it'd be better on a big screen with those "you are there" footage of concerts and larger than life close ups revealing the weight of making it, whether as a band or a family.  Head over to the IFC Center in New York City or for those in CT suburbs, The Fairfield Theatre Company will have a showing Monday, April 28. The brothers Berninger also visited the KCRW studios in March - listen to their engaging interview in the archives here.

Monday, April 7, 2014

New Song by Hamilton Leithauser "11 O'Clock Friday Night" (Video & Tour Dates in NYC April 15/16)

I have to admit I was hesitant to take a listen to this new song by the former frontman for The Walkmen, since they were such a fave band and he's now going solo.  (Read about the band's "hiatus"as I wrote about it last December here and revisit the heartbreaking tune "Heaven" witnessed live at BAM two years ago, recently featured in the finale of How I Met Your Mother, in the video at the end of this post.) This video was shot with friends in his new home of New Orleans after growing up with fellow members in the D.C. area before moving to NYC to make it in the indie music scene.  It's actually directed by the Walkmen guitarist Paul Maroon and it really is comforting to see Leithauser so at ease on his own, bombing around on a bike and doing what he does best -- singing.

So much of the group's sound hinged upon Leithauser's passionate, cut-to-the-quick vocals, and when his voice enters in "11 O'Clock Friday Night" there's an emotional pull back into the music with welcome relief. The instrumentation has less of the Walkmen tight band aesthetic, things are now more global in approach with ample use of vibraphone. Amber Coffman of The Dirty Projectors adds some subtle backing vocals, but it's still Leithauser's show and I'm all for it.  Can't wait to hear the entire album, Black Hours, due June 3 via Ribbon Music.  N.B. Leithauser will also be performing at Joe's Pub with two shows April 15 and 16.