Remember Fiona Apple? You know, that impossibly slight singer from the late 90s, the one with the huge blue eyes and the even huger voice? Maybe you remember Tidal, her first, awesome album from 1996 and it’s bad-ass single “Sleep to Dream.” After her 2005 release, Extraordinary Machine, Apple effectively disappeared, dropping out of the general music consciousness and leaving the throaty soulful singing to a new crop of British songstresses. Fortunately Apple is back with a vengeance this year. After her much lauded SXSW appearances, Apple has released the first single off her upcoming album The Idler Wheel, set to drop on June 19th. “Every Single Night” is extremely minimal, keeping the focus on Apple’s remarkable voice and the interior monologue expressed in the lyrics. For the most part she keeps her voice soft and tremulous, allowing it to shake and even break occasionally before breaking into her full throaty belt in a near yodel at the end of each verse. Its a strange and thoughtful new track from a strange and thoughtful performer whose presence we’ve been missing, whether we knew it or not. The track is available on Apple’s Soundcloud.
I have this thing about Swedish musicians. Why are they everywhere and why are they so good? Consider First Aid Kit, two sisters who make up an extremely young, very cute, and absurdly talented folk duo, who just released their second album to tremendous blog hype and critical acclaim. They just had their Boston show switched over to the Paradise Rock Club after selling out Brighton Music Hall. Others who come to mind are The Tallest Man on Earth, Jose Gonzalez, Jens Lekman, and Peter Bjorn and John, all excellent Swedish musicians who sing in English and have gained an ardent following in the US. But before any of these artists were a big deal, there was The Hives. Though officially they formed in the early 90′s, The Hives came to prominence, as part of the so-called “garage rock revival” in the early 2000s, along with The White Stripes. The band hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves in the US for its excellent and straightforward brand of rock n roll; They all but disappeared after their 2007 release The Black and White Album. But they’re back this year with a new album, Lex Hives, to be released in June, and in the meantime they’ve got a new single, “Go Right Ahead.” Listen up, and then start working on your “Superior Swedes” playlist.
I like Bad Weather California. I literally just stumbled upon this band a few minutes ago and dug the album cover so I took a listen and here’s what I think: The band’s new album Sunkissed has got a summery name and summery cover art and 11 summery tracks. Before you roll your eyes and tell me you’re tired of California indie bands playing the same cute poppy music about the beach (ahem Best Coast), take a listen to this new album. Sunkissed is sunshine with an edge. Stand out “Stand in my Sunshine,” is driven by its beachy rhythm guitar and bass line with occasional brass interludes. Singer Chris Adolf’s voice, a kind of mellow whine, toes the line between speaking and singing. This song derives its edge from the way he modulates his vocals from speaking, to singing, to screaming, toning up the whine and the growl for dramatic effect. Other tracks, like “Shine a Light,” take a more forboding tone, with more growl and less mellow, and an awesome afro-beat. The album as a whole is unusual and eclectic. It will make a nice addition to your “I WANT SUMMER” playlist (move over Morning Benders).
2012 marks the 50th anniversary of arguably the most famous Irish traditional folk band, The Chieftains. To celebrate the occasion, the Chieftains, working with producer and mastermind T-Bone Burnett, have released an album of 15 tracks, fourteen of which feature a collaborator from the modern indie rock, indie folk, or alt-country scene. The aptly named Voice of Ages underscores how much of a debt each of these artists (from Bon Iver, to the Decemberists, to the Carolina Chocolate Drops) owe to bands like The Chieftains and how much staying power these Irish ballads have in both American and Irish/English folk music. So often the “Americana Revival” in indie music, personified by bands like Mumford and Sons and The Decemberists, seems to be evoking but not actually connecting to the regional, cultural roots of American and Celtic folk music. An album like this one helps bridge the gap. I particularly suggest you listen to the collaboration with The Decemberists, a cover of Dylan’s “When the Ship Comes In” which was, in turn, based on a traditional Celtic song. Also check out “Lily Love” with the increasingly popular alt-country duo The Civil Wars.
The Black Keys are back with a vengeance. This fall they’ve been playing the Late Night TV circuit with appearances on the Colbert Report, David Letterman, and SNL. They recently announced an upcoming arena tour with The Arctic Monkeys. And this week they dropped their new, very cleverly marketed album, El Camino. It’s 3 AM on the week before finals so I don’t have all that much to say except that the album is good. Its less bluesy than anything that has come before and it is surprisingly, refreshingly goofy. Among the goofier and catchier tracks on the album, Gold on the Ceiling has the absurd refrain: “They wanna get my gold on the ceiling.” It may not make much sense but in an empty common room at 3 am in the morning it is endlessly amusing. El Camino is now available on iTunes (but not Spotify!) and tickets for the Black Keys’ arena tour go on sale to the public this Friday, December 9th. Get on it folks!
Sharon Van Etten’s most recent full length album, Epic, is lovely for its lush sound and intimacy. It is a little lugubrious and hazy. The singer-songwriter’s most recent single, then, comes as bit of a surprise. “Serpent” has the same kinds of harmonies that have always made Van Etten distinctive but otherwise it sounds very little like her earlier work. Up-tempo with jangly electric guitars and an aggressive drum-beat, “Serpent” is just downright louder than anything on Epic, with a more focused sound. The Single’s B-Side, “McDermott” is also different, appealingly rough around the edges, with less reliance on the classic Van Etten harmonies. Van Etten is a compelling artist and, with the release of these two tracks, has proved her versatility.
Perhaps you are already familiar with the website Daytrotter but if not you are in for a treat. Daytrotter is the website for a recording studio in Rock Island, Illinois called Horseshack. There, up and coming indie artists stop between gigs to record short and intimate sets. Those sets are then put up for download on the website. With its music savvy and supportive listening community the website has been a launchpad for many a new artist. For the listener, Daytrotter is an amazing resource for discovering new artists and learning a little more about old favorites. (more…)
Since Amy Winehouse’s death, the press circus, the speculation, and the head-shaking, can make a person forget about the mind numbingly soulful voice and the distinctive sound that made Back to Black so wonderful. Now that a posthumous album is forthcoming it is worth reconsidering Winehouse the artist, not the media figure. So first off I say go and give Back to Black another listen just because. In case you were wondering, rapper Nas recently confirmed the rumors that the album’s third (and best) track “Me and Mr. Jones” is in fact about him (his real name is Nasir Jones). This brings me to my pick of the week. “Like Smoke” is a collaboration between Nas and Winehouse and the first track released from her posthumous album. I think it speaks for its self.
As you may or may not know, The Decemberists are taking a long hiatus. Their accordionist, Jenny Conlee (also organist, pianist, melodica player, and general bad-ass) has been in treatment for Breast Cancer (it’s in remission!), Colin Meloy is writing children’s books, and Chris Funk, Nate Query, and Conlee all have another band, Black Prairie, to attend to. These are all valid reasons to take some time but I was still feeling pretty low imagining time spent without my favorite band around. That is until I learned that they have a new EP.
It is no secret that ticket sales for this year’s Cage Rage were not astronomical. A large swath of the school community seemed unexcited and mystified by Concert Board’s choice of band, the Brooklyn based pop-punk duo Matt and Kim. Who can blame them? Aside from the sub-culture of indie music lovers at Tufts, few students had heard much of the band beyond their popular single, “Daylight.” From a brief perusal of their discography, Matt and Kim don’t really seem like Cage Rage material. Daylight is catchy and cute, but is it rage worthy? The answer is yes. Everything about Matt and Kim is rage worthy. The problem is you have to just be in the know, to know. (more…)