Friday, January 22, 2021

Oh oh, it's AWEFUL!

It's been a while since I wrote about AWEFUL, but the Chicago trio just dropped a new video that is total fun, and should turn a regular Friday into and OUT OF THIS WORLD FRIDAY.

You'll see.

The video is fun, but if you buy the tune from AWEFUL's Bandcamp page they're donating half of all digital sales to NIVA, too.

Do it!

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Joe Biden is President, Kamala Harris is Vice President, and the world breathes a little easier today.

President Biden's speech was inspirational, but his decision to turn the stage over to a 23-year-old poet was truly inspired.

Change takes time, but change is coming.

We're gonna be O.K.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

I look into Pearl Charles' 'Magic Mirror' and find myself drawn through its lens into a better world.

I have listened to Pearl Charles' Magic Mirror a LOT over the last couple months. Her mixture of old school '70s rock and pop is balanced by a modern sensibility that allows the music to hang like sparkling points sunlight evinced by the sound of that era, with none of the sentimentality. At times Charles channels Abba, The Carpenters, and to my ears, even envisions what The Eagles might've sounded like if Linda Ronstadt had gone on to lead the band instead of a bunch of coked-up macho doofuses.

That also means I've been waiting months hoping Charles would release the lead track off Magic Mirror so I could share it with other people.* But I'm kind of glad she held off sharing "Only For Tonight" until just ahead of the album's release tomorrow. I love the tune, but if it had been the main thing out there to set the table for Magic Mirror there is an excellent chance people would've expected an album in the vein of Swedish dance pop, instead of the wonderfully textured quilt of various influences that it is.

But this tune is so awesome.

Am I wrong? No, I am not.

If you're reading this before January 15, you still have to wait a few days to hear the whole album, but there's nothing stopping you from sampling a few of the other tracks Charles has made public ahead of its release. And there's plenty of time to plunk down a few bucks and ensure the album is there, ready and waiting to be listened to on repeat when it drops this Friday.

*Seriously. I was checking in every few days to see if it was on her Bandcamp page because I couldn't wait to share it. Also worth noting, as an aside, that this album has been a lifesaver when I needed a pick-me-up or quick escape for a spell here and there over the last few months.

Thursday, January 07, 2021

What's next?

Yesterday I was waiting to write until after the election was certified, in hopes of celebrating that and the Senate wins in Georgia, and then adding in an unrelated coda celebrating the life of Betty the Beagle on the anniversary of her exit from this plane. 

I expected a bit of turbulence getting to that point in the day, but I did not expect an insurrection to occur.

And now, now I just don't know.

I think I'm still in shock.

What's next?

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Analog Radio returns!

What a bunch of fresh-faced young fellows!
Earlier this year Analog Radio resurfaced after a loooooong hiatus (don’t call it a break-up!) and launched a Bandcamp page with a very precise bio:
Chicago/Portland-based power pop quartet. Back together after 16 years, although we haven't told either of our fans yet.
This is a fact—they didn't tell me, I had to stumble across it myself.* I haven't told their other fan yet either, so let's just say this is that. Hello, other fan!

Back in the early days of the new millennium I would book these fellows as much as possible because I loved their smart, lo-fi, bedroom power-pop. Most of the band also loved Sloan, so we always had something to talk about during soundchecks. 

Ultimately Analog Radio put out a few albums that I wish they would re-release on band camp so y'all can hear how terrific those were, and how they deserve the attention of more ears than those of their two longtime fans. 

Until then, I recommend you curl up with these two nuggets of sunshine they released earlier this year, and hold out hope that their promise of a new album in the works reaches us more quickly than, say, the next Wrens album.

*This may not be true. Dann may have actually mentioned it to me at some point this year, but I don't trust my memory. So I'm sticking with this version of events!

Monday, December 28, 2020

Revisiting Imperial Drag ... and discovering you now like them!

I never got into Imperial Drag back in the day. I remember borrowing their debut from a friend—because even though I loved Jellyfish, buying CDs still required more money than I often had at the time—and being less than impressed.* Part of it was because I loved Jellyfish and, to my ears, Imperial Drag only seemed to retain the characteristics of that band I found the most frivolous portions of their predecessor's music. 

Of course the actual answer is that I had moved on from the technicolor attack of Jellyfish and fallen under the sway of the more obtuse and exploratory sounds of indie bands at the time, so Imperial Drag's simple injection of additional glam into the power-pop formula that worked so well for Jellyfish might not feel as vibrant to my ears in those days. 

I think the song shared above was a "hit" at the time, but I barely remember it, and definitely do not remember the video, which is just about as mid-'90s as you can get. But recently I revisited their self-titled debut and discovered that whatever didn't speak to me back then was cranked up loud and clear now. Yes, some of it is obvious, but it all makes more sense to me know, and is engaging on its own terms.

So, there you go. Let's all groove on this one together until I find something else totally random to try and entertain you in this final week of a most terrible year.

*It just occurred to me you may have no idea why I would be writing about Jellyfish and Imperial Drag, if you don't know that when the former imploded, two of the members went on to form the core of the latter. If you didn't, now you know!

Thursday, December 17, 2020

The supergroup you didn't know existed, with the holiday song you didn't know you needed.

Charly Bliss and Pup have teamed up to create a new soon-to-be holiday standard. Watch the just-released video above, and stream or buy (it's only a buck!) the track below.

Ho ho ho! Happy holidays, y'all!

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Live your "Best Life" with Cheekface!

Cheekface has an album coming out next month, and I just noticed they already have one of my favorite tunes from the album available as a single, so I see no reason to keep its gloriousness to myself.

In my notes, while listening to this originally, I see I described this as "on the quirkier, goofier side of indie with lots of talk-singing and jokey lyrics that sometime hit a little too close to home for comfort but still leave me laughing." I stand by that! For example, on the tune I'm sharing today, "Best Life," it was at this spot that I almost spit my coffee all over the place:
in the future, everyone will be my friend for 15 minutes / and we'll look amazing when we're in portrait mode / we are writers! creatives! we work remotely! / i am furiously Juuling™ on the coffee shop patio!

Nailed it!

So, yeah. Enjoy!

Friday, December 11, 2020

Foxy Shazam's new album 'Burn' is absolute fire.

Foxy Shazam is back! Of course they chose the worst year ever to return, and a release date that has been completely overshadowed by Taylor Swift / Kid Cudi / [redacted] / and all the other last-minute album drops anyone and everyone seems to be trying to squeeze in before the end of December. But they're back, nonetheless, and I am incredibly happy they've returned!

The band has been silent since just kinda dumping their last album GONZO online for free in 2014, and the group has done nearly nil as far as explaining their reemergence or talking about their new album the came out today, BURN. While GONZO eschewed the more complicated theatricality of their previous releases in favor of a straightforward rawk approach, BURN splits the difference and brings back the glam while retaining the more down-and-dirty studio sound.

AN ASIDE: Has anyone else noticed that when you look back at 2020 releases there is an unusual amount of disco and glam rising to the top of the pack? I'm not complaining.

Anyhoo, if you're done flocking to all the midnight releases everyone has been talking about over the last 24 hours, I suggest you make some room in your ears for BURN, since it may stick around in your soul longer than most of those other albums. And I'm not just saying that because we were one-time kickball teammates.*

*I almost made it through the whole post without mentioning that for once—as if they have any recollection of me at all—but I just couldn't resist!

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

The Lemon Twigs 'Songs For The General Public' deserves your ears (and maybe your heart).

I was listening to the latest episode of the Dig Me Out podcast this morning, and musician Ryan Allen mentioned his love of The Lemon Twigs, which spurred me to realize that aside from their live album from earlier this year, I completely forgot to sing the praises of the actual album Songs For The General Public they released in August!

The brothers that lead The Lemon Twigs look as if the year 1973 made love to Steve Perry and these two popped out of the glitter-colored inter dimensional pod that union created. And they sound like aliens from the planet Glam took over our terrestrial radio waves to suffuse them with outlandish yet accessible tunes that run the gamut from rocking' ragers to theater kid laments.

It's fucking fantastic.

My biggest regret about this, aside from Songs For The General Public being released in the midst of the musical black hole the pandemic has created in 2020, is that the band wasn't able to tour behind the album. The Lemon Twigs live is truly a unique experience, propelled by the weird tension and energy between the two brothers. In a flip of expectations, in this case it's the younger brother that is the wildest wild man, though don't take that as any intimation that the elder Twig is less "weird." They're both bonkers, but the kind of bonkers that only genuine earth-shattering talent can support without becoming absolutely annoying. And there is zero annoying about Songs For The General Public.

Sample a few tunes below and then follow my example and buy the dang thing!

Monday, December 07, 2020

Sonny Falls' latest release has been a slow rollout, but it's finally almost done!

This was gonna be a "checking in on how we're all doing" post but with the temperatures dropping and the nights growing ever longer and the COVID infection rates are rising ever higher, I have a pretty good notion of how we're all doing—not awesome.

So I'll keep it simple today and just offer you something to look forward to next week when Sonny Falls finally releases the rest of their double album All That Has Come Apart​/​Once Did Not Exist. The band has been dispensing the album's 16 tracks to public ears in batches over the last year, and on December 15 the final couple of songs will find their way into the world and we can all luxuriate in listening to the whole thing. I actually held off downloading it after buying it because I wanted to experience the entire album at once, but I grew weak and snagged what was already out for a preliminary listen and did not regret it one whit. So consider this your advance notice of good music that will whet your appetite and give you something to look forward to as the work completes next week.

I am also amused and a little delighted that the band is sticking with a Tuesday release date, since I admit in my own brain Tuesdays were "new music" days for 40+ years.

Friday, December 04, 2020

When the b-side wins we all win.

Gentlemen Rogues just released a new single with their new song "Do The Resurrection!" on the a-side, and it's a lovely high-charged little rock and roller. But the gold is in the band's mash-up on side b, merging Superdrag with The Lemonheads and My Bloody Valentine so seamlessly the average listener would never know the true roots of the track. Not that that would matter. It's a kick ass song no matter what your background.

So, enjoy "Bloody Rudderless (in Ursa Major)" and I hope you ave an amazing weekend!

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Carly promises everyone some Christmas tears, and I am so happy about it.

When news of a new Carly Rae Jepsen holiday tune broke last month, a friend texted me, expecting an excited reply. I admitted I was not hopeful, given how hollow most contemporary holiday music feels to me, and that I'd be happier if new Christmas music had to include sleigh bells, it was in a form of a remix by the band Sleigh Bells.

I still think that remix idea is golden, but I also admit that once I heard "It's Not Christmas Till Somebody Cries" I realized I might have another "new" song to place into my personal holiday rotation of "classics." And now that Jepsen has released a video for the tune, maybe I'll slot in a few viewings of this between stretches of burning Yule logs displayed on my television screen.

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Drakulas trade in their punk rock roots for new wave sheen.

Photo by Jon Weiner from the band's Facebook page

Drakulas list Austin as their hometown, but I’d argue the beating heart of the band got its start in Denton. I spent some time in Denton as a kid—one of my uncles lived there for a spell—but at the time my pre-teen brain had no clue the town would become a musical hotbed. Then again, Texas may not quite be the alien landscape I knew as a kid, but it is still certainly conducive to creating pockets of musical resistance to the mainstream. 

I say this because the voice of Drakulas is Mike Wiebe of Riverboat Gamblers, born and bred in Denton, TX. The Gamblers' run of albums from 2001 through 2006 was both solid in approach and stunning as far as showing growth, before starting to bend more towards commercial wills than the frantic weirdness that sparked their earlier output. But their live shows we're always absolute fire. Just *chef's kiss* so much fun.

When I heard of Wiebe's involvement in Drakulas I was cautiously excited—I missed his voice but wasn't sure if a project steeped in new wave roots would be the right fit. But really, all Darkulas does is take its members' punk rock pasts—the band also features another Gambler and a member of Rise Against—find the melodic mindset that connects them all, and then send it through the New-Wave-O-Matic to churn out sharp little glistening cubes of pop stippled with bootprints and mud. You can add gloss to the rock, but you can't remove the grit at the core that helps everything stick together. And what you're left with is Terminal Amusements. Thank god!

Monday, November 30, 2020

He said captain, I said "wot?"

I finished another rewatch of Legion over the weekend—if you're looking for an extremely rewatchable TV show that shifts its skin from episode to episode while still managing to tell a compelling, overarching tale, this could be your jam—and every time Captain Sensible's "Wot" comes up on the soundtrack I am absolutely floored with how much the song sounds like it could've been recorded yesterday. I am almost embarrassed at the number of times I've Shazam-ed the tune each time it comes on because I've completely forgotten its provenance.

So this seemed like the right thing to share of a cloudy Monday when we could probably use a little jolt to add some pep in our collective step.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Soundtrack your Thanksgiving break with the summery sounds of Hey, Chels.

File this as yet another in the category of "meant to write about it but never found the right time" and then forgive me for never finding the right time, because the right time is now!

Most of you likely have the next couple of days off due to the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, and I'm also guessing most of you won't be celebrating the same way you have in previous years. So if, like me, you are celebrating the holiday solo, you may as well kick off the long weekend with something summery and fun, right? No reason to let the isolation get you down!* 

Hey, Chels is a quartet out of San Diego led by the commanding vocal presence of Jacque Mendez, resting within the easily digestible chunky, chuggy musical sugar pills constructed by guitarist Ricky Schmidt, bassist Kevin White, and drummer Stephanie Presz. It's all very '90s indie guitar, it's all just oh-so catchy, and it's all just what I needed this morning. 

And since you're reading this, that might be what you need too. Lemme know how it hits you.

*Actually, there are a ton of valid reasons for isolation getting you down. So instead view this as an isolation-management tactic.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

A rare endorsement of a contemporary holiday album that could very well become a classic.

Photo by Chris Edwards
This is the year I know I've softened when it comes to the approaching holidays, because for the first time I haven't thrown into an irrational rage over Christmas decorations coming out before Thanksgiving. Given the state of the world, I'm realizing the power in even the smallest gestures of joy.

But I've held onto my disdain for most contemporary holiday albums as half-baked cash grabs with little to no personality. Or, even worse, those that simply turn pop songs into "holiday songs" by adding obnoxious sleigh bells to tunes that 100% don't need them.

The key word here is "contemporary," though. I love the heck out of older holiday music, which was no less a cash grab at the time but ended up being timeless despite that. 

So when Kelly Finnigan's A Joyful Sound showed up in October I listened begrudgingly ... for about 10 seconds before that initial resistance turned into an open embrace. When I went back to actually read the press release alongside the albums (when possible I listen to tunes first and read the bits about the artist intentions after) it made a ton of sense:
Featuring members of Durand Jones & The Indications, The Dap-Kings, Ghost Funk Orchestra, Monophonics, Thee Sinseers, Orgone, Ikebe Shakedown, Jason Joshua & The Beholders, The True Loves, Neal Francis, Jungle Fire, Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio, Ben Pirani, The Jive Turkeys, The Ironsides, The Harlem Gospel Travelers, Rudy De Anda, Alanna Royale, and more! Inspired by records like Atlantic's Soul Christmas, Phil Spector's A Christmas Gift For You and Rotary Connection's Peace, this album will appeal not only to lovers of holiday music, but lovers of SOUL music in general!  
In light of that, Finnigan and his compatriots absolutely delivered an album I seriously consider a new holiday classic. In this world, Christmas is snowy and beautiful but also dusty and groovy. This could turn even the most sedate family gathering into an all-ages dance party—I guarantee grandma is gonna love these songs just as much as the dour goth tween sitting sullenly at the other end to the table grousing about the lack of vegan options.

In fact, this is the rare holiday album I could see playing all year round. It's that fucking good.

Don't take my word on it though, get into the holiday groove and see for yourself!

I mean, Grohl is cool and all, but Nandi RULES!

At least one adult in the U.S. knows when it's time to properly concede.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Wherein I finally get the point though that certainly wasn't a certainty from the beginning.

I’m doing the same thing every music fan is probably doing right now, going through albums I listened to this year to start putting together personal “best of” lists. My list has always been based on music that hit me hard and stuck with me throughout the year, and right now I'm finding that a barrier. Because of the nature of the music world n 2020 a lot of great music was released only to too swiftly disappear. Even the monsters of pop couldn't hold onto public attention, even if they did rack up decent sales/streams (e.g., Lady Gaga, The Weeknd, Green Day (?!), and on and on ad nauseam). And those are just some of the expected heavy hitters that swiftly vanished instead of leaving a lasting cultural impact.

The author, hard at work looking like a dork.
Back in the spring the year looked to be stacked with promising indie or smaller releases, and while that proved to be true this environment wasn't exactly conducive to keeping anyone as a frequent conversational topic (unless you are Phoebe Bridgers, in which case you became the reliable focus of many music outlets when they needed something to write about everyone could agree on ... but even her Punisher has quickly faded in my personal estimation—a fine and solid album but not the masterwork many hail it as).*

Then there's the unexpected tripod of Dua Lipa, Annie, and Kylie Minogue, who all recorded albums entirely or mostly before the pandemic, but their release throughout the lockdown seemed to perfectly coincide with exactly what I needed from music in the moments they entered the world. In a way they built upon each other to create a triptych that I've come to rely on whenever I need a lift or an escape. In retrospect this feels like a cosmic alignment.

It's Monday, so forgive my rambling while I look for the point. I usually know what I'm driving at but now realize I started writing this to try and sort out my own thoughts, and as I go on I feel like I'm only confusing myself more. Do I want my "best of" to be grand artistic achievements or a catalog of alternate realties I escape to as needed? I guess my perfect list would include music that's both, right? And come to think of it, that's how I always build these things, so what's my problem?

Oh yeah, 2020. That's my problem. Something as simple and supposedly fun as creating a list of what I liked is brought down by the reality that even the tasks that seemed enjoyable in the past have to rub up against the friction that nothing is normal or expected right now. And my critical parameters have had to reckon with that in ways I'm less used to.

Hey! What do you know? I figure out the point I was trying to get at! Yay me. So now that that's sorted out, lemme go work on it for a while. Here's a fun song to reward you for slogging through all that.**

*No shade intended since it is a terrific album with a few truly outstanding songs (I still think "Kyoto" is an instant classic.) It just didn't have the staying power with me that other albums have, thus far.
**Oh yeah, did you even know Badly Drawn Boy released a new album this year? Probably not! It's rather good, even though I admit there are a few lyrics in "Is This A Dream" that feel oddly prophetic now.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Twitter finally makes their first smart move in a really long time.

I've had many issues with Twitter at the years progressed—oh how innocent it all seemed way back in January 2008 when I first joined—but am so far appreciating a few of the latest privacy options they're rolled out. While I know everyone still wants an edit button for their tweets, I've never been convinced tat wouldn't undercut the basic nature of the platform. But giving users the control over the conversations connected to their tweets seems like an excellent idea.

Yes, one could argue that this would only reinforce the echo cabers Twitter tends to foster, but after years of trying to figure out how to deal with the issue in a manner that might appeal to people's more rational nature and seeing everything fail on that front, this at least gives you control over whether or not your tweets are hijacked by vitriolic conversations.

I do wish they hadn't rolled this out in conjunction with their lame Stories ripoff Fleets, since that dominated the conversation around the latest update, so I think it's worth reminding you that you now have this option of additional control over the content you put out there.