Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Chase away any winter blahs with Pip Blom.

Photo by Erik Smits
When I first listened to the new Pip Blom album Welcome Break, I was like, "Oh cool, another band that seems to have grown up on Matador '90s records!"

Seriously, I don't think that label gets enough credit for the current sound sweeping the digital airwaves these days. But as a dude who lived through that time and loves all that music, I can think of far worse role models to musically emulate.

As I've dug into Welcome Break more and more over the last few weeks, the album only grows stronger, in my estimation. I'm sure Pip Blom being based in the Netherlands helps, allowing them to approach their music from a slightly different cultural lens, injecting a new vibrancy into this sound so familiar to me.

Plus, if you live in the U.S., I wanted to send you into your holiday with an album you can listen to over and over (and over, if needed) again on the train / plane / automobile ride to your chosen family gathering.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Crossing that fine line to discover unexpected release, happiness, and humanity.

One of my happy places during the pandemic.
I probably don't listen to music like you do. I mean, I do, but I don't.* Anyway, one of the benefits of digging through and listening to hundreds upon hundreds of new albums each year is coming across something like Nation Of Language's "Across That Fine Line." When you listen to that much music, most of it starts to fade into a singular tone, well executed and worthy of respect, if not always transformative or mind-blowing. And then, every once in a while, a simple song cuts through it all with an electrical charge that knocks you backward and fills you with hope, and life.

The honest yearning every time the guitars kick in and the vocals struggle upward in their minor key—that combination just sounds so ... alive. Like the kind of alive you remember and relate to and exudes a steady current. The crisp moment that sticks with you. It's a slice through the fabric of normalcy to reveal the magic that lies underneath our world. It's always there, but sometimes we need help to see it.

*I've never quite figured out if it's my ability to forget that fact, or my ability to live inside it that's helped define my voice over the years. Sorry, I didn't expect to think that right here, but I also didn't plan on writing the line that triggered this avalanche of thoughts either. Though, really, this footnote is less an avalanche and more a solo tumble down the hillside, so you probably don't care either way.

Monday, November 22, 2021

What's next? How about an early morning thought-ramble.

Some days you are filled with concrete and discrete thoughts about single artists, and other days are ... well, a Monday. So let's just take a poke around and see what's in the ol' noggin' this morning.

Photo of Sting (possibly) judging me  
by Eric Ryan Anderson
Over the weekend I listened to the new Sting album The Bridge and was surprised by just how easy the whole thing went down.* And I realized that Sting’s superpower these days is writing songs that go down easy but that also feature complicated constructions at their core. But in the hands of someone like Sting, those flourishes feel so natural and normal I no longer feel his solo music is nearly as self-absorbed as it used to be. Or maybe I’m just getting old.

Speaking of getting old, I also can’t shake the feeling that there is something big just around the corner in the music world that will shake things up again. We haven’t reached this level of complacency with the mainstream output in the music world since the late ‘80s (IMHO) and there’s a certain restlessness that is beginning to grow. And I think the pandemic’s removal of most of the magic and glitz surrounding “big” releases is owed partial credit for this.

So what’ll happen? I dunno. But I think you’re gonna see the current status quo attained by many mainstream musicians (both in the pop and so-called indie realms) erode in the next two years as more immediate and vibrant acts grow to take over the conversation. 

Our world is being rebuilt around us. Some want to hold onto and return to the status quo, but that expired status quo is no longer rooted in anything other than previous corporate gatekeepers’ best interests, so I don’t know about you, but I am excited and hopeful to see what comes next.

*I really do listen to anything sent my way at least once. In the case of albums like Sting's, I have fund late evening listening works best. Music life that use dissolves in my head when it's pumped out in the daylight. Great, it looks like my thought-rambles extend to footnotes now? Aren't these things supposed to further clarify?!

Thursday, November 18, 2021

I've got zero "Problems" with Neal Francis, aside from not discovering his talents earlier.

A brief tale: I got a couple press releases for this album, but never asked for a download so I never gave it a listen and it kind of flew past me. Until I read a friend's Facebook post lavishing praise on this album, which isn't something that would often sway me, but in this instance said friend has a historically sharp taste in music so when something really flips their lid, I'm all ears. So imagine my shock and surprise to discover not only is this album a-MAZE-ing, but the cat who created it is from Chicago!* Though it appears he was in funk bands during a time period I was largely unaware of any developments in that particular scene, so I guess I can be forgiven for being unfamiliar with Neal Francis' work before now.**

I've listened to the album enough to fall in love with it, but not enough to tell you exactly why I love it, so for now I gift you this video released earlier today to give you an idea of Francis' look and sound. And below you will find a link to his new album In Plain Sight for your listening enjoyment while I work out my feelings for you to peruse at a later date. Perhaps before his January 14, 2022 show at Thalia Hall? Until then, enjoy! 

And yes, I did order this LP on snazzy red vinyl earlier this week .. which actually gives me a closer to my brief tale! Because the day after I bought it, a download of the album was sent to me by his team—without me asking for it. So I take that as a sign I was destined to hear it!

*Wait! you are asking, who is this "cat?" Read the next sentence and not this footnote and you'll find out!
**In full transparency, Neal looks really really familiar to me, and I'm half expecting to get a message from a friend after posting this saying, "Dude, you've seen a dozen bands he's been in over the years," so if that happens ... um, sorry?

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Gal Gun delivers a 'Critical Hit!'

Oh, hey there! I did a little write-up about Chicago band Gal Gun's latest album Critical Hit over at Third Coast Review ahead of their show at Liar's Club tonight (a show you you should totally catch if you live in Chicago) so I hope you read my piece, but I hope even more you give the album a spin! But you have to click the link above to do either. Motivation!

The photo in this post is the promo shot for the vinyl version of Critical Hit, because whoever photographed that did a much better job of staging the LP and all its goodies than I could with my own copy. 

But I can definitely confirm it's worth it if you can afford to lay down a few extra bucks to own a physical versus digital version of the album!

Tuesday, November 09, 2021

It's a new release ... Tuesday?! The Kickback and Glimmer have both just released pretty spectacular songs.

Wait, what?! New music on a Tuesday? What year is this anyway? I kid, of course, and to an old like me, Tuesday was long the day for new music.* While the headline is cheeky, I am actually quite excited about the two new songs debuting today that I'm sharing with you.

First up, we have locals The Kickback, whose recent return from a long hiatus that I recently celebrated continues with their latest song, "Kare." As I hinted a few weeks ago, the fact the band is intentionally releasing new music a single song at a time is directly tied (in my mind) to the dense construction of each song. "Kare" sounds 100% like The Kickback, though I can see why longtime fans might be a little more confused by the band's shift in direction from straightforward rocking and/or rolling. But this not only makes total sense to me, this is a completely natural progression for the group. 

Next up, Jeff Arthur is better known to longtime readers and the front person for Dead Stars, one of my favorite groups to come out of NYC in the past couple years. Like just about every other band on the planet, Dead Stars hit a bit of a roadblock during the pandemic, so Arthur decided to make some of his own truly solo tunes under the Glimmer moniker after a yearlong break from music. On "Breathe" he plays all the instruments and recorded the tune in his home studio, and it doesn't sound terribly different than the work in Dead Stars. Which is to say, melodic yet heavy guitars and killer melodies, so it's pretty great.

*Also, I would not complain if the industry ever decided to move new releases back to Tuesdays. Maybe this is the start of a small but stubborn movement? O.K., "movement" may be wishful thinking, but you get it. And wouldn't you rather have time to sit and live with new albums throughout the week instead of shoving them into your earholes every Friday to get them in before the weekend?

Thursday, November 04, 2021

Don't bother asking which person in Penelope Isles is Penelope because the answer is none of them, but do bother with their excellent new album!

The first thing I noticed about Penelope Isles' new LP Which Way To Happy was how lovely the singers' voices complemented each other. Then I actually read the press release and OF COURSE this UK band's core is the sibling team of Lily and Jack Wolter.* Blood always blends best when it comes to vocals. You can't beat it.

But wait, there's more!

This whole album is chock full of light and bright guitar stuff—there's a shiny and clear vibe to their sound that often feels like the music is expanding upward to embrace the sun and clouds. But it's also grounded—the tunes aspire to reach the heavens, but there's enough heft and grit to keep your footing as you traverse their dizzying heights. If you're looking for something buzzy and effervescent with a bit of weight, this is it.

The album will be released tomorrow, November 5, so don't miss out!

*I'll scan press releases for a little context before listening to albums, but if the band is truly new to me I prefer to go in blind, and then read up after they've made their first impression. I don't want you thinking I wouldn't research something I'll eventually write about at all!