Monday, May 25, 2020

Monday Mix: A (Re)Introduction to Kathleen Edwards

With Kathleen Edwards releasing her first album of new music in nearly eight years later this summer, I felt like now was as good a time as any to take a look back at some of her best work so far, so a new Monday Mix for your American Memorial Day is cookout appropriate even if you're socially distancing, and the irony that it highlights a Canadian artist on a national holiday is not lost on me.

Edwards has released four albums up to now, and this mix covers all four plus her new release, "Options Open." The mix is best listened to in order, at least the first time around...

Failer: Edwards's debut album is represented by five songs here. "Six O'Clock News" put her on the map, "One More Song the Radio Won't Like" kept her there, and the rest show some decent range. Don't sleep on "12 Bellevue," which remains a favorite of mine. After listening to this set, make sure to check out this highlight from her debut (and long-lost) EP, Building 55, which has some elements of both "Lone Wolf" and "Bellevue" while giving an early sense of her range.

Back to Me: The follow-up to Failer does not expand things out too too much with one exception in the title track, which is much more of a rock experience than the alt-country we came to expect. Even still, it's a heck of a song. "In State" is the spiritual, if not literal, sequel to "Six O'Clock News," and "Copied Keys" far too often makes things a little too dusty if you catch my drift...

Asking for Flowers: That this album wasn't a serious breakthrough record for her, I have no idea. The title track is gorgeous, lead single "The Cheapest Key" is a lot of fun, but the highlight in a near-perfect album is "I Make the Dough, You Get the Glory," which has so many great lines (I'm always back and forth between "You're the Great One/I'm Marty McSorley" and "Heavy rotation on the CBC/Whatever in hell that really means") and maybe the best, most Canadian music video you can imagine.

Voyageur: This album was the mainstream play, was famously produced in part by Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, was less country and more indie/adult-alternative, and... it has a lot of great moments. As a huge fan, I gave this a lot of time and listens, but a lot of the charm and the wit that made Kathleen Edwards different than every twangy gal with a guitar was a little lost here. And a lot of the baggage that came with this album is why she quit music to begin with, so it's hard not to look back at this album and find a lot of offramps along the way. Still, "Change the Sheets" was a great song, "Empty Threat" probably the most Kathleen Edwards song on the record ("I'm moving to America/It's not an empty threat"), and "Mint," although unlike much else that she has offered up, is an underrated classic from her catalog.

The mix closes with her new song, "Options Open," and it deserves to be among this canon of songs after a week of repeated listens. I'm more excited than ever for the new album, Total Freedom, and hopefully this gets you in the mood for it as well.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Sugar Snow Covers Goffin & King

Sugar Snow is the solo project of Kid Gulliver's Simone Berk. According to the Bandcamp bio, Sugar Snow is "dreamy, melodic, pretty, sad, honest and raw," which sums up the project's latest single. "He Knows I Love Him Too Much" was written by the songwriting pair of Gerry Goffin and Carole King, and popularized by The Paris Sisters. It's a classic early 60's oldie, and the Sugar Snow version stays quite true to the original, with maybe a little more hint of modern folk than the pre-Beatles invasion music scene sound of the original. Interestingly enough, Berk recorded her vocals at Zippah Studios while in her minivan due to social distancing.

You can listen to Sugar Snow's take on "He Knows I Love Him Too Much" below. The song is currently available via Bandcamp. For more on Sugar Snow, check out the artist's Facebook and Twitter.

Wilco - "Tell Your Friends"

Late show live performances are obviously a challenge these days. Most talk show hosts are hosting solo from home with guests on video conference, so it's pretty impossible to actually do any live performance. Wilco were on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert this week with their new single, "Tell Your Friends." Instead of a live performance, the band is shown in home recordings lip synching with their families. Not super cool, but check out the Mass MoCA shirts! "Tell Your Friends" is a laid back, chilled out dreamy folky kind of song that includes a killer lazy electric guitar solo. So... a pretty standard Wilco song these days. The lyrics are a little hokey ("Don't forget to tell your friends / When you see them again / O' I love you"), but we can all use some hokey positivity these days. "Tell Your Friends" may not go down as one of the greatest Wilco songs of all time, but it's the Wilco song we need right now.

You can watch the video for "Tell Your Friends" below. The song is available on Wilco's Bandcamp, with all proceeds going to World Central Kitchen. For more on Wilco, check out their website.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Sharon Van Etten featuring Joshua Homme Covers Nick Lowe

Photo by Ryan Pfluger
It premiered last week on the Hulu show The Great, but now we can listen to this cover on its own. Sharon Van Etten and Joshua Homme (Queens of the Stone Age) have joined together to cover Nick Lowe's iconic "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?" The duo slows the song way, way down into a nearly haunting version with lots of country guitars. Instead of the joyful sound of the original, Van Etten and Homme's version sounds more like a tearful plea.

Homme explains the collaboration: 

I went to a Courtney Barnett Valentine's Day concert that Sharon Van Etten was playing as one of a veritable buffet of musicians. She opened her mouth and my mind exploded—that voice, like fresh cream... with a hint of fine grit. When a week later the opportunity arose to sing with her, I jumped at it. This was of course  before we had any idea that the world would be going into hiding for months. Recording this song had nothing to do with what we’d be going through... until we started going through it. In these times, it’s a blessing to feel lucky even for a moment... and I feel lucky to have been able to work with Sharon, Zach Dawes, Michael Shuman, Matthew Siskin and our families.
When you’re shooting at home you start out shooting only what you love. Then you get tired and stop. This video doesn’t deal with anything outside of what’s happening within its own little world we created -- only what’s happening inside two households connected by what they love the most, nothing more.”

You can watch the video for Sharon Van Etten and Joshua Homme's cover of "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?" below. You can purchase of copy of the song here. For more on Sharon Van Etten, check out her website.

JEUCE - "Hangover"

Photo by Ben Jackson
JEUCE are the kind of band we know we're far too old to love, but when the music is this much fun... how can we not? "Hangover" is this out of control burst of joy trapped in a minute and a half. It's all about having a hangover and the problems this causes. The song is brought in this bundle of garage punk blended with some 60's hipster groove. Plus, the delivery has a more than a little in common with neo-riot grrrl, but more party than politics. "Hangover" is absurdly fun, and it's well worth the ninety seconds it will take to listen.

You can listen to "Hangover" below. introJEUCEing, the debut album (and album title of the year) from JEUCE, will be out May 29 on Delicious Clam. You can pre-order the album on Bandcamp. For more on JEUCE, check out their Bandcamp.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

RMBLR - "Machine Gun"

Sometimes you just wanna drop the pretense and just listen to a rock song. Atlanta's RMBLR have you covered. "Machine Gun" was recorded just before quarantine, "Machine Gun" is the kind of garage rock 'n' roll that would have been huge during the garage rock revival of the early 2000's. It's no frills (except for some slick sounding production) punk infused rock without gimmicks. The members have all done time in various Atlanta bands over the years (The Heart Attacks, Ravagers, The Barreracudas, Dinos Boys, and Biters) which makes RMBLR an Atlanta supergroup.

You can watch the video for "Machine Gun" below. RMBLR have a six song EP due out later this year on Spaghetty Town Records. For more on RMBLR, check them out on Bandcamp.

Phoebe Bridgers - "I See You"

Photo by Frank Ockenfels
I was a little late to jump on the Phoebe Bridgers bandwagon, which is something I've been regretting for quite a while now. Luckily, I'm firmly onboard for album two which is due out next month. "I See You" fits right into what we expect from Bridgers while pushing forward. This new single is simply an epic indie rock/folk song, despite being intensely personal. The song feels like being stuck in this intense and otherworldly dream, in the best possible way.

Bridgers explains the song: "It’s about my breakup with my drummer. We dated for a few years, made music every day, and were extremely codependent. We became like family to each other, so our breakup was extremely tough. But if this tells you anything about our relationship, we wrote this song together, just like everything else.” 

You can watch the video for "I See You" below. Punisher, the new album from Phoebe Bridgers, will be out June 19 on Dead Oceans. Bridgers will also be launching her "Phoebe Bridgers' World, Tour" next month, with her playing in different parts of her house, streaming, of course. Dates for that are below the video. For more on Phoebe Bridgers, check out her website.

Madeline Kenney - "Sucker"

Photo courtesy Madeline Kenney
If you haven't discovered the music of Madeline Kenney yet, now is a perfect time to jump on board. Her latest single, "Sucker," is both breezy and contemplative, which might be perfect for the summer of 2020. It's this light, gorgeous song that never gets cheery. Musically, it's not quite folk, and it's not quite indie rock. It leans towards pop but never really commits to that, either. Instead you get a sound that is truly unique to Madeline Kenney, while still feeling comforting and familiar. Plus, it features vocals from Lambchop's Kurt Wagner, which is always a plus.

Madeline Kenney says of the song and video:

"When I lived in Durham, I found myself sitting in the sun on the porch with a musical hero of mine, who was worried about losing their healthcare and not being able to afford to tour. It blew my mind and broke my heart that such a genius had to struggle with uncertainty in trying to make their art. I wrote 'Sucker' when I realized that all of us continue to make art, and fall in love, and attempt things that logically could fall apart at any moment, but we are fools for the game and keep producing, keep pursuing. I asked Kurt Wagner to sing on the track because I feel like he is consistently brave in his songwriting (and I'm a HUGE Lambchop fan). When he sent me the stems, I drank a martini and cried.

I'm a huge fan of con-movies; my favorite film is Paper Moon. I wanted to direct a video that put me as the con-man, whose existence relies on making suckers out of passers-by; but ended with me being the biggest loser of all. I lucked out when my favorite Oakland diner, Lois the Pie Queen, let us film on location."

You can watch the video for "Sucker" below. Sucker's Lunch, the new album from Madeline Kenney, will be out July 31 on Carpark Records. You can pre-order a copy here. For more on Madeline Kenney, check out her website.

New Music from Kathleen Edwards: "Options Open"

I can't be objective about Kathleen Edwards.

I tripped up on Kathleen Edwards shortly after her debut album, Failer, came out in the United States with a profile in the Boston Globe featuring a promo photo of Edwards collapsed in the street among some beer bottles. Pitched in a way as a sort of foul-mouthed alt-country successor to Neko Case, I fell in love with every song on that album, saw her at TT the Bears, fell in love with every other album she put out, saw her in New Hampshire, and waited impatiently for her to become the next big thing.

Then she quit music and opened a coffee shop.

If you've been keeping up with this blog for a while, rarely a month goes by in my weekly new release posts where I don't toss out the idea of an artist filling that Kathleen Edwards-shaped hole in my musical heart. Some have come close, but it's never fully happened. Rumors of her reentering the studio have floated around for a while, but yesterday marked her first release of new, original music since 2012.

"Options Open" is billed as a song for a former love that becomes a song for loving yourself, and I have to say: after eight years off, Edwards hasn't lost a step. The song feels right at home in the In State/Asking for Flowers era, and has the exact addicting, heartbreaking style that Edwards perfected and no one else comes close to. She's a master storyteller whether it's about a fictional criminal who'll end up on the evening news or with something more autobiographical, and this song deserves to be added among her best efforts.

I'm glad she's okay, and I'm glad she's back. Her new album, Total Freedom, is due out in August via Dualtone Records (it's not an empty threat), and the lead single can be found below.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

First Listen: New Releases from 15 May

Artist: August, Yours Truly
Album: Something Uncomfortable
Quick Description: Some really great glitchy electronic music.
Why You Should Listen: This is sneaky great with some crossover appeal.
Overall Thoughts: I randomly tripped up on this one this week when doing a little bit of research on the Charli XCX record (also out this week). This came recommended by someone, and wow, is it great. A lot of fun stuff here for those looking for something a little different and a little challenging, and it's almost akin to if the PC Music crowd trapped Ben Frost in a room for a month. Don't miss this one.
Recommendation: Won't be for everyone, but if it's for you...

Artist: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
Album: Reunions
Quick Description: Latest from the alt-country masters.
Why You Should Listen: Isbell continues on his run of stellar, superior releases.
Overall Thoughts: It's not often that you listen to an artist's newest release and say "yep, this is some of the best work they've done yet," but here we are with the new Jason Isbell and I feel like I'm saying it yet again. Reunions is a classic Isbell/400 Unit effort on its face, and all the contributions you expect to be excellent are there, but there's just something from the stories he tells and the way he expresses the mood of those tales that just works on such a visceral level. There's no one like him, no one like his band, and we're lucky to have him in these times.
Recommendation: One of the best of the week, if not the year.

Artist: Jess Williamson
Album: Sorceress
Quick Description: Latest from a favorite around these parts.
Why You Should Listen: Jess Williamson has perfected her sound on this album.
Overall Thoughts: I dare you to listen to "Infinite Scroll" and not become obsessed. Ken and I have both been on board for some time, but this album represents a leap in songwriting and performing for Williamson that I didn't see coming, and the result is a deeply compelling record with basically no filler. You can't go wrong with this, even in a busy week, and I fully expect a few of these songs, if not the whole album, on some year-end lists.
Recommendation: Don't miss out on this.

Artist: MAITA
Album: Best Wishes
Quick Description: Debut album from a solid singer-songwriter.
Why You Should Listen: There's an edge here missing from a lot of music like this.
Overall Thoughts: I don't know anything about MAITA, and I confess to missing her EP a few years back. "Someone's Lost Their Goddamn Wallet" hit my radar recently, and it just touched a chord with me in a way I didn't expect, and her full album does a similar thing. Her approach is one that just has a different feel to it, and the result is something that I've been itching to get back to again. There's a lot to love here, and I hope it doesn't get lost in a busy week quarantine shuffle.
Recommendation: A great listen.

Artist: Pharis and Jason Romero
Album: Bet on Love
Quick Description: New roots album from a favorite duo.
Why You Should Listen: This might be my favorite efforts of theirs yet.
Overall Thoughts: I was exposed to this duo on their last album, and quickly went back to their older stuff because of how much I liked it. This album in particular really connected with me on first listen, as it balances that tough line between raw exposure and a more polished approach, and the end result is just a super compelling record from a duo that knows exactly what they're doing and how to make beautiful music together. Can't go wrong with this on a whole, this is a folk record that's perhaps more superior to much else this year.
Recommendation: Another solid entry for the year.

Artist: The Dears
Album: Lovers Rock
Quick Description: New album from the Canadian rockers.
Why You Should Listen: This may be their best effort since their early releases.
Overall Thoughts: I might say this every time there's a new Dears album, but "21: The Death of All Romance" is a top 25 all-time song for me, and I've been chasing that high from The Dears for nearly two decades. While Lovers Rock doesn't get me there, it gets me closer than anything they've done as of late, and the sharp edges of this record come out to play in some pretty interesting ways. If you've fallen off the bandwagon, this is a great place to get back on board.
Recommendation: A solid effort.

Artist: Thao and the Get Down Stay Down
Album: Temple
Quick Description: Latest from some indie favorites.
Why You Should Listen: It's Thao Nguyen at her best.
Overall Thoughts: Thao's been a favorite probably since "Bag of Hammers," and we loved A Man Alive from four years ago. Thao has since put out some solo work, hosted Song Exploder for a year, and now come out with maybe my favorite effort of hers yet. It's a little more mature, a little more direct, but a song like "Temple" leads off and sets the tone so perfectly that it's basically impossible not to fall for this one.
Recommendation: Worth the time.

Artist: Charli XCX
Album: how i'm feeling now
Quick Description: Latest from the weirdest mainstream pop artist going.
Why You Should Listen: Charli is leaning right into what got her into music to start.
Overall Thoughts: I almost feel like the album title is a declaration of intent. If you know Charli XCX, it's because of that infectious Icona Pop song from years ago or from "Boom Clap," arguably her biggest hit. She has, however, her feet at least partially planted in a weirder, glitchy pop area (think Hannah Diamond or Slayyyter) and it appears she's just diving right in with this effort. Predictably, I love every moment and I'm hoping not only that this is a success for her but that the rising tide lifts some other boats in the process.
Recommendation: A must listen if only for the cultural impact.

Artist: Retirement Party
Album: Runaway Dog
Quick Description: Noisy indie alt-rock.
Why You Should Listen: Retirement Party sounds a lot like our recent favorites.
Overall Thoughts: I don't have a ton to say about this, but I didn't want this to fall by the wayside in a busy week. This is great, angsty alt-rock reminscent of the 1990s female-fronted alt-rock we grew up and fell in love with. It's a great listen, and one you don't want to miss.
Recommendation: Worth the time this week.

Of note:

* The Magnetic Fields - Quickies (Some solid, very short songs.)
* The Phenomenal Handclap Band - PHB (Don't sleep on this. Not a lot to say but this is quite good.)
* Perfume Genius - Set My Heart on Fire Immediately (Becoming a TikTok meme hasn't changed him.)
* Sparks - A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip (It's a Sparks album, which is all you may need to hear.)
* Lesley Barth - Big Time Baby
* Orpine - Grown Ungrown
* THICK - 5 Years Behind
* American Trappist - The Gate
* Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith - The Mosaic of Transformation
* Moses Sumney - græ
* DJ Manipulator - Gram Jams
* Emily Wells - In the Dark Moving
* ALMA - Have U Seen Her?


* Theia - 99% Angel
* Fever Dream - Baby Girl Vendetta
* Emma Blackery - My Arms Are Open

Also out:

* Sleaford Mods - All That Glue (Odds and sods collection.)
* Stereoma - Ghost Stories From the Recently Deceased
* Western Addiction - Frail Bray
* Moby - All Visible Objects