Staff Picks: Music
Fans of his band the New Pornographers will find much to like when listening to A.C. Newman’s newest solo album Shut Down the Streets. Newman is one of power pops most prolific and talented stewards and yet while there are plenty of energetic, signature anthems to chant to this summer while headed to the beach, his newest batch of songs takes a more personal and introspective turn.
Several years ago, the band Vampire Weekend were notable for successfully bringing to the ears of listeners of indie rock an Afro Pop sensibility to their catchy, pop songs. The Florida band Surfer Blood also weaves together a variety pack of genres including surf rock (Dick Dale, The Ventures), fuzzy power pop (Weezer, Waaves,The Shins) and subtle hints of Afro Pop rhythms that never sound out of place or gratuitous. Their 2010 album Astro Coast perfectly captures much of how today’s best indie rock groups are concerned with writing catchy, dance-friendly tunes, but doing so with the kitchen sink of instrumentation and influence at their disposal.
One of the best albums of 2013 is Youth Lagoon’sWonderous Bughouse. This band knows how to bug out with effortlessly, rolling psych-pop that will get inside your brain, pitch a tent and remain there for hours afterward. Fans of The Flaming Lips, Beach House, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, MGMT and Sparklehorse will find much to like about this sonic flood of colorful melodies and low-end production.
A friend from Seattle turned me on to the music of Damien Jurado a couple of years ago so I was excited to stumble on a new cd of his, Maraqopa, as I browsed the KPL new music section. Now I can't stop listening to this mixture of what Larry Fitzmaurice at Pitchfork calls, "soft-psych freak-outs, rainy folk, haunted 1960's pop, and slow-burning oddball sparseness." I googled Jurado and found out I'm a Johnny-come-lately to his music as he has been around since the mid 90's, releasing albums with Sub Pop Records and now with a label based in Indiana called Secretly Canadian. If you like Neil Young and the Fleet Foxes give Jurado a try or come and browse our music section and see what you discover.
The singer Emmy Rossum is known mostly for her various television (Shameless) and film performances (The Phantom of the Opera) but she also has the trained pipes of an accomplished singer. We’re not talking about the sort of actress, who uses their fame to influence the music industry to play along with their middling vocal talents (see: Scarlett Johansson). Rossum can truly bring the noise as she clearly shows in her new album Sentimental Journey, a collection of old timey jazz standards (Autumn Leaves, Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out) and retro-swinging country (Things, Pretty Paper). The album is on order so keep an eye out for it. It will be here soon. Listen to some of her renditions here.
Last week, I wrote about the passing of Alvin Lee, arguably one of the world’s great guitarists. They always say these things happen in threes.
Just a few weeks beforehand, February 18 to be exact, we lost Kevin Ayers. Ayers was a key player in Britain’s Canterbury scene during the late 1960s. He was a founding member of the band Soft Machine, and an active solo artist. Ayers’ list of early collaborators reads like a Who’s Who of influential artists; from Brian Eno, Nico and John Cale (June 1, 1974), to Floydian madman Syd Barrett, Elton John, Robert Wyatt, Mike Oldfield, and others. His first solo album, Joy of a Toy, was released on EMI’s new Harvest label in 1969, right beside early (now classic) releases by Deep Purple and Pink Floyd. His sixteenth and last studio album, The Unfairground, was released in 2007 to much acclaim. Ayers was 68.
This week, one more member of “British Rock Royalty” joined his departed contemporaries. Peter Banks was a founding member and the original guitarist in the prog band Yes. He was featured on the band’s first two recordings, Yes and Time and a Word, before being replaced by Steve Howe in 1970. He achieved a certain degree of success with the UK band Flash during the mid-1970s. An occasional series of solo albums followed during the 1990s. Banks passed away in London on March 8 at the age of 65.
Some great early footage of Yes with Peter Banks (and later with Steve Howe) follows...
The Unfairground by Kevin Ayers
The music world bid farewell to another guitar great on Wednesday with the passing of Alvin Lee. During the late 1960s and 1970s, the British born Lee fronted the band Ten Years After, and set the world on fire at the Woodstock Festival in August 1969 with “I’m Going Home.” Lee was known for his lightning fast guitar work and sensitive interpretations of blues standards and his own compositions. Lee recorded nearly 30 studio and live albums during his career—to this day, Ten Years After Recorded Live remains one of my own “desert island” selections… most notably for its incendiary cover of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Help Me.” His latest album, Still on the Road to Freedom, was released last year. Lee was 68.
One of the best alt-country CDs of 2012 was Rhett Miller’s, The Dreamer. Miller, the longtime front man of the Old 97’s, has once again proven that he is one of the best songwriters in music. What I love best about Miller’s solo material is that he is not afraid to dabble in many different music styles, like power pop and folk. The Dreamer is pure alt-country and closer to a new Old 97’s record than his previous releases.
The first track “Lost Without You” starts slow then picks up with a twangy edge that mixes perfectly with Miller’s voice. The song “Out of Love” blends aspects of power pop with the unmistakable instrumentation of bluegrass. “As Close As I Came to Being Right,” a duet with the great Rosanne Cash, is as close as you can get to a perfect alt-country love song. Miller is an underrated talent that deserves more accolades for his contributions.
After listening to The Dreamer you will realize that at its core, Miller has crafted a letter to the idea of love in all its forms. Check it out and treat yourself to a late Valentine.
Rhett Miller - The Dreamer