Category Archives: Music

New Music: “Solar Energy” – Froomador

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Froomador’s “Solar Energy” is a gorgeously layered acoustic-based song with bittersweet lyrics about the state of the Earth today.  Rather than writing a downright angry song, “Solar Energy” comes off as a lament, where the Earth comes off as a lover whose heart we’ve broken for forgetting to take care of.

“Solar Energy” can be found Froomador’s latest album, Can’t This Wait.  For more info on the band, check out the site.

 

Song of the Day: “Lips Like Sugar” – Echo & The Bunnymen

Some artists and songs seem permanently stuck in their original era, never able to become completely timeless. Not that it’s necessarily a bad thing: there’s a whole market for nostalgia. Sirius XM has a plethora of channels devoted to this very concept from ’60s on 6 to the aptly titled new-wave station, 1st Wave.

Echo & the Bunnymen are definitely one of those bands from the ’80s that never really achieved any recognition or exposure (at least on this side of the pond) past 1989. Some of their contemporaries fared better. The Cure had a lasting impact due to a devoted following and enduring classic singles, and a few artists even had hits covering their songs. And we also all know how U2 ended up.

Listening to “Lips Like Sugar” today, I’m a little bummed that the song hasn’t achieved the level of other ’80s rock classics. Who doesn’t want to belt out, “lips like sugaaaaaah!  sugar kissin’!” at the tops of their lungs? I may have to try this song out  next time I do karaoke. The opening riff is fat and monstrous, carrying the weight of the entire song with it.

Coldplay and Smashing Pumpkins have covered “Lips Like Sugar”, but the most interesting version is by Seal who recorded it with reggae singer Mikey Dread for the move 50 First Dates.

Check out “Lips Like Sugar” below.

 

 

New Music: “Gasoline” – The Local Strangers

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Indie-Folk act The Local Strangers have released the latest single, “Gasoline” from their two-disc LP, Take What You Can Carry.  “Gasoline” is anchored by the  vocal harmonies over  from founding members Aubrey Zoli and Matt Hart.  The song begins with two intertwining electric guitars, each projecting a soft and melodic palette, that gives Zoli and Hart plenty of room to soar over once the drums kick in.  Things kick up during the bridge, with a brief and distorted solo, before the duo return to the chorus where they proclaim, “You already forgave me, Got a heart full of gasoline”.

Take What You Can Carry is the sophomore album by The Local Strangers, which is released in two distinct and different versions. The first version features their killer band in the studio, while the other finds the duo in a more intimate approach with just acoustic guitars and their voices.  To promote the album, The Local Strangers will be engaging in a unique string of live dates this April, showcasing the acoustic side of the album, which they have dubbed “The Living Room Tour”.  Fans who RSVP via their web-site will be given a disclosed location for each “Living Room”.

Check out “Gasoline” below:

 

 

New Video: “Sunday Morning” (Maroon 5 Cover) – Austin Valencia

 

Singer songwriter Austin Valencia recently released his cover version of Maroon 5’s “Sunday Morning”.  Valencia’s version of the Maroon 5 song peals back the layers of the soul influenced song and turns it into an intimate performance that feels like a lazy Sunday morning while the clouds over the previous night still loom high.

The son of two Philippine Immigrants, the Detroit-raised Valencia began playing piano at 5.  His influences include John Mayer, Stevie Ray Vaugh and Jimi Hendrix.  Valencia’s first full-length Directions is available now.  For more info on Valencia, check out his web-site.

Feature: “Grace” – Nita Chawla

 

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Nita Chawla’s latest EP, Grace contains shade of Fiona Apple, Sara Bareilles and “Like a Bird”-era Nelly Furtado. But it’s Chawla’s set of pipes that set her apart. The simple and sparse arrangements – augmented by gentle acoustic chords – give Chawla plenty of room to dig deep on songs like “Bite the Bullet” and “All or Nothing”.   When she sings, “I’m going to pack my bags and tell myself everything will be alright,” you almost want to go with her just to see what’s in store. Her voice isn’t necessarily technical or perfect. But that’s hardly the point. It’s easier to identify with someone who has feeling behind the voice.

The two “pop” songs on the EP – “They Scream” and “Fantasy” – would probably help her achieve some attention for their accessibility, but they don’t do her voice the justice the way the rest of the set does.

Grace is available now.  For more info on Chawla, visit her web-site. Check out “All Or Nothing” below:

 

 

New Music: “Help Me Feel Something” – Eddie Cohn

 

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Eddie Cohn’s  latest single “Help Me Something” conjures a feeling of mid-90’s Radiohead with its swirling guitars, strings and piano. The song starts off slow in a wash of atmospheric sound with Cohn’s soft voice adding to the drama. When he reaches deep, the music follows creating an eerie effect. It’s an effect that works well because when Cohn moans “Help me feel something good” during the chorus you truly get the sense that he is overwhelmed.

“Help Me Feel Something” can be found on Cohn’s third album Guaranteed Love out now.

Check it out below:

 

For more on Eddie Cohn check out his website.

Retrospective: The Top 10 Albums of 2005

 

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I’m feeling a bit nostalgic at the moment and finding it hard to believe that 2005 was 10 years ago. Overall, 2005 was a pretty good year for music and saw quite a few artists releasing some of their best work. So here’s my Top 10 for 2005.  (In no particular order.)

“Come on Feel the Illinoise!” – Sufjan Stevens

Come on Feel the Illinoise! is a wordy, highly literate – just how many words and references can he throw in “Decatur”? – complex and musically ambitious album. It could easily fall under the weight of its own pretentiousness, but somehow it doesn’t. Managing to incorporate The Wall of Sound into a lo-fi record (particularly on the glorious “Chicago”, Stevens delivers not only the best album of his career but also one of the best of the 2000s. With a mix of folk, classical and even buzzing guitars (“The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts”) Come on Feel the Illinoise! reveals something new with each subsequent listen.

“Aha Shake Heartbreak” – Kings of Leon

Before they went mainstream (and downhill), Kings of Leon were a white-hot, dirty rock n’ roll band. Aha Shake Heartbreak shows that version of the band at its best: a strange hybrid of Allman Brothers Southern-boogie played with Stooges-style anarchy. Caleb Followill’s voice was nearly indecipherable as he belted out tales of his dick getting soft from too much drinking and threatening to take people down in a cock-fight. Every song is a classic and is an album the Kings never bettered. (Note: I’m going with the US release date in 2005, not the UK edition which was released at the end of 2004.)

“The Woods” – Sleater-Kinney

If Sleater-Kinney hadn’t decided to return with this month’s No Cities to Love, The Woods would be a hell of a way to go out. The Woods is a dark, furious beast of a record that crushes anything in its path. Janet Weiss never pounded so hard – check out her rolls on the opener “The Fox”. Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker both deserve more recognition as guitarists- their interlocking riffs and wild feedback on “What’s Mine Is Yours” is the stuff of legend. Even the slower moments are dazzling as evident on the surprisingly poppy “Modern Girl”. At the time, The Woods was more than a fitting coda to one of America’s best bands. Glad to have them back.

“Cold Roses” – Ryan Adams & The Cardinals

Ryan Adams released two great albums (this one and Jacksonville City Nights) and one underwhelming one (29) in 2005. What sets Cold Roses apart from the other two is the lack of self-importance. On Cold Roses, Adams seems relaxed and embracing his inner American Beauty.  The highlights are many: “Sweet Illusions” is breathtakingly gorgeous, “Let it Ride” makes Adam seem command of the world’s best bar band. And “Easy Plateau” might be the best Alt-Country song he ever recorded.

“Welcome to Jamrock” – Damian Marley

I’ve always thought that the musical children of Bob Marley rely too much on his name and music and have never carved out a career of their own. Damian Marley, however is the exception wisely choosing to infuse hip-hop (in his case, “toasting”) into his musical heritage. The title track is a vivid portrait of Jamaica’s dark underbelly where “people are dead at random”.  The driving opening track “Confrontation” is a perfect showcase for Marley’s fast-paced vocal dexterity. The highlight is the Nas’ assisted “Road to Zion” who (naturally) gives an absolutely flawless verse.

“Silent Alarm” – Bloc Party

As far as debut albums go, Silent Alarm is a pretty good one. There’s a razor shape focus in the songwriting and delivery which is only amplified with the jagged guitars and dramatic drumming. The post-punk aggression in many of the songs makes the earnestness easier to swallow.  Make no mistake, Silent Alarm is a political album but it’s the quieter and apolitical moments like the soft “So Here We Are” that are the most memorable.

“Z” – My Morning Jacket

 Z found My Morning Jacket ditching their trademark reverb-heavy sound for a warmer vibe and deconstructing several different styles throughout. “Wordless Chorus” is psychedelic soul at its best: a showcase for Jim James’ to truly show his vocal shops during the outro. “Off the Record” is charged by a classic guitar riff, before sliding into a pseudo-reggae coda that reminiscent of both “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?” and “Layla”. A landmark achievement for the band, Z is endlessly inventive and rewarding.

“Plans” – Death Cab For Cutie In the mid-2000’s, Death Cab For Cutie found themselves at a crossroads much like late 80’s R.E.M.  Both acts received critical acclaim for their indie albums and questions arose what a major label debut would do to their sound.  Plans unlike Document (which boasted a heavier sound for R.E.M.) isn’t a radical departure for Death Cab, but rather a summation of what they do best: weary mid-tempo ballads that mixed with a few rockers for good measure. Plans achieved a rare feat of bringing in new fans while also satisfying the old ones.

“Arular” – M.I.A.

Arular is what happens when Sandinista! meets hip-hop and eletroclash.  Arular is a radical album on all fronts and is the first indication that not only does M.I.A. not shy away from controversy, but tends to thrive on it by writing songs about terrorism and snipers in Sri Lanka. Musically, the album is a barrage of sounds from all corners of the world mashed up together brilliantly. Bonus points for also sampling The Sanford and Son theme song. Not for the faint of heart, but a riveting record all the same.

“Late Registration” – Kanye West

Late Registration is probably remembered most for “Gold Digger” which was everywhere. But Late Registration is the album where West truly solidified his status as a visionary. Deciding to move away from the Soul-sample heavy sound of The College Drop-Out, West ups the ante by incorporating string sections and chamber music throughout Late Registration. Lyrically the template for his later works start here: biting social commentary mixed with boasting and self-deprecation. Easily one of West’s best works.

 

Review: “Radio Sister” – Dave Phaeln

 

 

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Much of Dave Phaehn’s Radio Sister sounds like adult contemporary pop of the late 70’s and early ’80’s. It’s not hard to imagine that many of these songs could be included on the soundtrack for an early ‘80s New York romantic comedy. The pristine production, slightly funky grooves and jazzy saxophones evoke feelings of Manhattan during the Reagan-era. With that in mind, it’s no surprise then that many of these songs were actually recorded in the early 1980s and shelved until now.

Many of the songs found on this set are ear-worms, particularly the title track and “Better Things to Do”. The melodies aren’t immediate, but linger in your head for hours afterwards. Much of that credit can be given to the background vocalists whose refrains and wordless chants who give the sometimes stiff performances a bit of needed soul and grit. The same goes for Phaehn’s scorching harmonica solos. If his licks were played against a white-hot blues band, the results would be stunning.

The best moments on Radio Sister are the rare ones where Phaehn actually lets loose and gets back to his bluesy roots. The rollicking “Soda Fountain” makes you want to get up and dance with its short musical battle between a saxophone and Phaehn’s harmonica.

And in complete contrast to the slick production found on the rest of the album, Radio Sister ends with a stripped down medley of Lead Belly songs and the front-porch blues of “Stranger Blues” . It’s just Phaehn’s voice and some hand claps, but he does his best to conjure up the ghost of the delta, and damn does he come close. Equally impressive is the front porch blues of “Stranger Blues” where Phaehn really shows off his harmonica skills. You don’t even have to close your eyes too tightly before you can see a keg of moonshine at his feet.

There’s a lot to like on Radio Sister but too often it seems stuck in the 1980s. When Phaehn removes himself from that era and dives back to a a more transcendent time is where Radio Sister truly shines. Those tracks are worth sticking around for.

For more info on Dave Phaeln, check out his web-site.

My Life in 33 Songs: #18: “Seven Nation Army” – The White Stripes (Or Going to a Ravens Game on Thanksgiving Night With My Father)

 

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On Thanksgiving night in 2013, a little bit before dinner my brother made my wife and I offer that  was too good to refuse: his tickets to that night’s Ravens game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He has season tickets but because of the holiday did not want to go. Naturally, I immediately jumped at the chance. My wife, despite loving football was a little more hesitant because it was supposed to be a really chilly night. But knowing how much I wanted to go, she still would have gone with me. After a little while, she suggested that I go with my father instead.

As soon as I told him, my father starting rummaging around my brother’s house looking for warmer clothes. I could immediately tell that it made him happy to go with me. There was an unspoken acknowledge between us: years earlier the thought of the two of us attending a football game together seemed ridiculous.

It’s not like I didn’t like spending time with my father. On the contrary. Yet football was an entirely different matter. As a kid, I hated football and couldn’t understand why he would spend Sunday afternoons watching it. The games seemed to go on forever without anything actually happening. I couldn’t relate to his anger and frustration at seeing the his favorite team, Washington Redskins lose time after time. Why would anyone want to put themselves through that?

It wasn’t until six or seven years ago that I finally came around to football due in large part to spending Saturday afternoons drinking and watching Notre Dame games with two of my closest friends. At first I just used the games as an excuse to drink on Saturday afternoons, but eventually I found myself not only enjoying the games but becoming a fan of the Irish as well. It also helped that my wife is a big supporter of the Nebraska Cornhuskers and we have since attended several games together.  Living in Baltimore has given me little choice but to be a Ravens fan.

As we made our way to the stadium through the large crowd, it felt good to be with my dad. There seemed to be an openness to our conversations that is not always there. I could tell he felt similarly. His mood was so jovial that he even joked around with the people around us.

Mid-way through the game, the familiar boom of “Seven Nation Army” blasted through the  stadium loudspeakers. Almost immediately, the crowd began to chant the song’s famous guitar riff. “What is this song?” My dad asked, not being too familiar with popular music. “I hear it all the time in English Soccer games.”  I explained to him that it was a song by the White Stripes and wasn’t originally intended to be a sports anthem. For someone who didn’t particularly like rock music or why I love it so much, he seemed genuinely interested and even got caught up in the crowd’s chant.

When “Seven Nation Army” debuted in 2003 on The White Stripes’ Elephant album, I could not have predicted that it would become such a world-wide phenomenon at sporting events, let alone that my father would know the melody and chant it.  And I’m not even sure Jack White could have predicted its popularity.

Though it might seem normal now (and maybe even cliche) now, in all honesty, “Seven Nation Army” is a fucking weird song to be a hit outside of the rock world. It’s fueled in part by paranoia and a massive yet repetitive guitar riff that never wavers but only changes in octaves. The guitar solo contains the same chords as the main riff. And to top it all off, there’s no chorus. Like The Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, the main riff is one that you can’t get out of your head no matter how much you try. The riff (sometimes mistaken as a bass guitar due its deep, thick sound) is the melody that drives the song. If the song is stuck in your head, you hum the riff, not Jack White’s vocals.

Though he can sometimes come off as cantankerous, Jack White seems humbled and bemused by the whole thing. As he related to Conan O’Brien last summer, “People come up to me all the time, and they think it makes me mad for some reason. I don’t know why they think it upsets me. As a songwriter, that’s the greatest thing that could ever happen. It becomes folk music.”

It’s hasn’t quite become reached that level, but it’s not far off. Watch any football game and you’ll hear marching bands play the song in the background. Many teams use the song to entice crowds who chant the song with glee. It’s on its way to becoming the “We Will Rock You” of the 2000s.

For fans of the Ravens, the song has a particular resonance. As the “pump up” song for thee crowd, it’s played at virtually every home game the Ravens play and it ignites the crowd in a way that nothing else does. Even some of the players have taken note of its power. Following the Ravens’ Super Bowl victory in 2013, former safety Ed Reed led the faithful through a chant of the song at a victory parade in MT&T Bank Stadium.

Interestingly, “Enter Sandman”, Joe Satriani’s “Crowd” and Shinedown’s “Diamond Eyes” along with “Seven Nation Army” were all original contenders for the “pump song”.  A few years ago, the Raven’s web-site called for song submissions and hundreds of requests were received. Coach John Harbaugh was then given the task of breaking the submissions the down to five. It wasn’t a landslide, but “Seven Nation Army” was clearly the winner. Ever since then, the song has become a regular part of Ravens home games.

I wish I could have explained all that to my dad. As it was, spending Thanksgiving night in the cold watching a Ravens victory over the Steelers was more than enough. As we left the stadium, I remember thinking that I wanted to make a tradition of going to a game with him every year. Just last month, we did exactly that. I hope we can go sometime next year too. Maybe I’ll make a Ravens fan out of him yet.

 

 

New Video: “Feed Us” – Dreaming Bull

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Dreaming Bull’s “Feed Us” is a hard-rock blues song that actually feels like the blues. It’s driven by a killer riff that sounds like an avalanche coming down and thunderous, yet groovy drums. Much like Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, founding members Gabe Rowland and Nic Capelle created the band after bonding over their love of Howlin’ Wolf and Son House.

Dreaming Bull will release their self-titled EP later on this year. If “Feed Us” is any indication, it’ll be a monster.

Check out “Feed Us” below:

For more info on Dreaming Bull, check out their web-site.