June Reviews

6/30/20

Michael KiwanukaHome Again (2012)

My introduction to him was last year’s incredible album Kiwanuka, which easily made my best list for the year. The texture and complexity of it blow my mind. Now, hearing this 2012 record for the first time, I find it every bit as good; a disc I’ll return to frequently, I predict. Like Kiwanuka, I hear subtleties on my second pass through I didn’t hear the first time. His voice is impeccable, always delivering perfect phrasing for every moment. “Rest” put me at peace like few songs can. It makes me wonder why I didn’t like Kiwanuka’s 2016 album, Love & Hate. My records show I listened to it, or part of it. Not sure what I didn’t hear then, but I’m going to revisit (probably tomorrow) and find out, because I may be obsessed with Michael Kiwanuka. 

Pigeonhole: Indie rock, indie folk

6/29/20

Jason MrazLook For The Good (2020)

After seven albums, Mraz remains a happy guy with a great voice. Apparently this is Mraz’s white-boy reggae moment, as every song has some degree of reggae influence. There are lots of simple lyrics, like “make love not war” and “I was raised to love my neighbor.” Yet there’s still something refreshing about it all. I even like “Hearing Double,” a song that could easily turn annoying, as he repeats every line twice (thus the title). But like everything Mraz offers here, it works. The album is bookended by two extremely uplifting songs, the title track and “Gratitude,” in which Mraz repeats the album’s opening lyric “look for the good.” Mraz is part owner of a restaurant a few blocks from my apartment, Café Gratitude, so perhaps you see a pattern. He is also an activist and the founder of the Jason Mraz Foundation, which supports charities in the areas of human equality, environment preservation and education.

Pigeonhole: Folk pop, reggae

6/28/20

Ray LaMontagne, Monovision (2020)

This is a simple, stripped down collection that gently washes over the ears and leaves a nice, soothing residue. It’s entirely a one-man show; LaMontagne does it all, the instrumentation, the vocals and the engineering. Perhaps this solitary approach was the inspiration behind the album title. There are moments reminiscent of Neil Young, and even the Everly Brothers (on “Weeping Willow”). When he sings a line that’s been sung a million times, like “Lately, it’s the mornings that I miss her most of all,” there’s something refreshing in his emotional interpretation. There’s always something deeply human about LaMontagne’s music, and this album feels like a gift to a troubled people. Particularly delightful: “I Was Born To Love You,” “Summer Clouds,” “We’ll Make It Through” and “Highway to the Sun.”

Pigeonhole: Folk rock, 

6/27/20

Vampire WeekendModern Vampires of the City (2013)

They developed the cuts for this album at sound checks during the Contra tour. It’s considered an experimental record with extensive use of pitch shifting, which involves manipulating an original pitch higher or lower, a technique used extensively in cartoons, particularly Alvin and the Chipmunks, Tweety and Daffy Duck. Such experimentation is expected from the audiophile members that make up Vampire Weekend. The complexity and depth of this album landed it on several best of lists of the decade.

Pigeonhole: Indie rock, baroque pop

6/26/20

Goldfrapp, Tales of Us (2013)

These are mostly trance-inducing, slow-burn ballads that deviate from Goldfrapp’s typical electronic leanings. Every song title is a given first name (other than “Stranger”), including “Annabel” inspired by a novel about an intersex child raised as a boy, and “Clay,” based on a letter written by a World War II veteran to his male lover. The album was promoted with five different short films, including a 30-minute anthology of the entire collection. Alison Gsldfrapp’s crystal clear, breathy vocals are nothing short of mesmerizing. The arrangements are fairly sparse, which gives space for Alison’s vocal range and versatility. 

Pigeonhole: Synth pop, folktonica

6/25/20

Bessie Jones, Get In Union (2020) 

Clapping. Lots of hand clapping. I guess because, when you’re a slave, you use whatever instruments you can come up with. Alan Lomax took on the project of compiling these working songs sung by Bessie Jones. The result was this sixty-song, two-and-a-half hour collection. Jones’ grandfather was brought to the New World in 1843 as a slave and fathered Jones in 1902. She was raised in the Gullah-Geechee traditions of the American south and had her first child at the age of twelve. Beginning in 1963, she was part of the Georgia Sea Island Singers, which toured colleges and festivals for the better part of two decades, including performing at Jimmy Carter’s inauguration. Some of these songs include background chatter, of particular note is the ending of “Going to Chattanooga” where she talks about singing and “twisting” (dancing) while her parents weren’t watching.

Pigeonhole: Gospel

6/24/20

Phoebe Bridges, Punisher (2020) 

She’s only 25-years old but already Phoebe Bridges is quickly becoming a musical powerhouse. This is her second solo album in addition to her acclaimed work with Better Oblivion Community Center and Boygenius. Mostly a mix of melancholy tunes, her tender voice is accessible and appealing. The only cut that doesn’t work for me is the opener, “DVD Menu,” which feels superfluous. The next two cuts (the album’s singles) are simply incredible.  

Pigeonhole: Indi rock, folk rock, emo

 6/23/20

The National, Trouble Will Find Me (2013)

This isn’t my favorite album by these guys, but they always set a high bar for themselves. This, their sixth album, was nominated for Best Alternative album of the year behind the singles “Demons” and “Don’t Swallow the Cap.” Lead singer Matt Berninger’s morose and monotone vocals always work for me, whereas similar bleakness from the likes of Nick Cage or Leonard Cohen just make me want to open a vain and bleed out.  

6/13/20

DJ BoringLike Water (2020)

This album was released yesterday and after a couple passes I’m sold. There are some nice big electronic moments here, although there’s also some fat that could be trimmed from almost every cut. He sometimes spends a little too much time getting to the point. But overall it delivers bass-heavy, lo-fi house beats. DJ Boring is Austrian-born Londoner Tristan Hallis who, apparently, has a hot A/V set he produced with New York visual artist Amir Jahabin. It’s obvious these tunes would pair nicely with visual affects. Can’t wait for that kind of live experience in a club again, someday.  

Pigeonhole: Dance, electronic

6/12/20

Jagwar MaHowlin (2013)

This debut from Australian trio Jagwar Ma delivers a steady neo-psychedelic beat likened to Primal Scream or the Stone Roses.  “Come Save Me” stands out with soring vocals that could have been a Beach Boys hit in the day.  The heaviest trance is courtesy of “Four,” a six-and-a-half minute, swirling mix of sound behind a deep pulse. Tasty mix of percussion and tribal beats on “Exercise.” They’ve toured in support of two other favorites: Tame Impala and The xx

 Pigeonhole: Psychedelic rock, alternative dance 

6/11/20

Rhye, Woman (2013)

Rhye is the Canadian duo of Mike Milosh and Robin Hannibal. Milosh’s contralto androgynous voice could easily be confused for a woman’s, which makes the title track a bit ironic. If anything he could be compared to sultry legend Sade. The first two songs are sensual soul pop songs that set the tone for what comes next. Multiple instruments are used here, including trombone, violin, harp, flugelhorn, trumpet, clarinet, flute and saxophone. But subtle seems to be the underlying mood.

Pigeonhole: Alternative R&B, downtempo

6/10/20

The Brothers Johnson, Right On Time (1977)

“Strawberry Letter 23” was a quasi hit in 1977 for The Brothers Johnson. Written by Shuggie Otis, the 66-year old just released his own version of it and, I’ll be kind, it’s an admirable attempt. To truly appreciate this song, you must hear the Brothers Johnson version. Which I did, then checked out the rest of it. The opening cut “Runnin For Your Lovin” is a fun horn-backed jam. “Free Yourself, Be Yourself” is beautiful, for no other reason than its cheesiness (think theme from The Love Boat). The instrumental “Q” has some fun moments — a tinkling of a triangle, a couple killer Hammond lines.  “Right On Time” couldn’t be more fun, or more dated. It doesn’t really stand up in the twenty-first century. But the Seventies were a fun time in music, and this album is proof. Otis deserves thanks for this record. As silly as it can sometimes be, it at least got me to hear “Strawberry Letter 23” for the first time in decades. There’s some similarities to Sly and the Family Stone, like “Brothers Man,” which is an incredible funky jam. “Never Leave You Lonely” sounds like a campy song from a discount wedding, but eventually evolves into a groovy jam. The record wraps with “Love Is,” a pretty dreadful ballad with an awkwardly uplifting message. As for the Brothers, Louis died in 2015; couldn’t find much info on line about George.

Pigeonhole: Funk, R&B

6/9/20

José JamesHeaven On The Ground (2013)

He’s been called a jazz vocalist for a hip-hop generation. This is a totally laid back album, to the point of nearly inducing hypnotics. The title track is a tasty slow groove, as is the amazing “Do You Feel,” meanwhile “Tomorrow” is a bit tedious. There are two versions of “Come To My Door” (written by Emily King). James does a super groovy take, then is joined by King for an acoustic version. Both are so good I can’t pick a favorite.  

Pigeonhole: Neo soul, modern jazz

6/8/20

Bobbie HumphreyDig This! (1972)

Dizzy Gillespie saw her perform in a talent show in the late Sixties and encouraged her to pursue a music career. This jazz flautist later became the first female instrumentalist ever signed to the prestigious jazz label Blue Note, and went on to perform with Duke Ellington and George Benson. I chose to feature this album, although I also heard Blacks And Blues (1999), considered her best. I actually found Dig This! more to my liking. The first two cuts have excruciatingly long intros but eventually get into a groove. It’s the third cut, an instrumental cover of “Smiling Faces Sometimes” (a hit by The Undisputed Truth in 1971) that boosts the record’s credibility. “Virtue” is vintage groovy vibrations, while “I Love Every Little Thing” is a delicious flute instrumental. “Nubian Lady” is another keeper. There are no vocals here, which begs the question: how much flute music can you take in one sitting (my answer is: about an album and a half). She’s now 70 and lives in Marlin, Texas; her last studio album was released in 1994.

Pigeonhole: Jazz fusion

6/7/20

PhoenixBankrupt! (2013)

Ti Amo (2017) made my top ten list that year, and it’s better than this one, but not by much. Bankrupt! grows on me the more I hit repeat. This is their fifth album and it follows the hugely successful Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. Right out of the gate it’s a big electronic explosion (“Entertainment” and “The Real Thing”) behind the familiar and wonderful vocals of Thomas Mars (husband of movie director Sofia Coppola I just learned). The title track is a marvelous electronic instrumental for the first four and a half minutes before Mars chimes in to wrap it up. I really can’t get enough of these guys.

Pigeonhole: Synth-pop, electronica

6/6/20

LA PriestGENE (2020)

I have varying degrees of excitement for the new music I write about each day. Even the best stuff is sometimes just okay. Other days it’s like finding a secret treasure I get to keep! Not that this album is a perfect 10 rating. In fact, most of it I’m not even that thrilled about. But the opening three cuts (and the three edited versions at the end) are absolutely awesome. Not sure I can even pick a favorite, but I’ll go with “What Moves.” “Beginning”sounds like a modern-day incarnation of the Talking Heads or Bryan Ferry. But I can’t stop listening to all three! Sadly, the album kind of falls apart after that. It’s almost like those three songs were produced by a different person than the rest of the album. The internet says: “LA Priest is the name Sam Dust, late of Late of the Pier, adopted to release his beguiling space-pop-psyche solo work following the demise of the band he founded when still in his teens.” Whatever any of that means.

Pigeonhole: Electronica

6/5/20

Trey Songz“How Many Times” (2020)

This single by three-time Grammy nominated artist is in response to the civil unrest following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Songz sings the line “How many bro thers gotta die/How many more times?” backed by a full gospel choir. No doubt a trove of music will come out of these times. This just happened to be the first one that caught my attention, and I like it quite a bit. A portion of the proceeds will benefit Black Lives Matter and the National Bail Fund Network. 

Pigeonhole: RnB, soul

6/4/20

Mayer HawthorneWhere Does This Door Go (2013)

He’s heavily influenced by classic soul and Motown, but there are cues from across the musical spectrum here, which makes this a truly unique collection. Andrew Mayer Cohen (aka Mayer Hawthorne) draws influence from the likes of Curtis Mayfield, Isaac Hayes and Smokey Robinson. But there are also Steely Dan moments, like “Wine Glass Woman,” and a hip-hop element (Kendrick Lamar co-wrote “Crime” and makes a cameo). All of which results in something entirely new and refreshing.

Pigeonhole: Retro soul, pop and R&B

6/3/20

Alec BenjaminThese Two Windows (2020)

Several of these cuts were released as singles over the last several months, all meeting with my full-throated approval. Now the balance of this record is out, and it doesn’t disappoint. This is Benjamin’s second full album and I have to say, there’s something very appealing about his vocal chops and his writing ability. I’m indifferent about only two cuts (“Must Have Been The Wind,” and “Alamo”); the rest I really, really like. This 26-year-old hails from my hometown (Phoenix, AZ) which isn’t necessarily a hotbed of musical talent, although I have high hopes for a long career in this case. (Also see M4S post 3/12/20)

Pigeonhole: Pop

6/2/20

Karl BartosOff the Record (2013)

Bartos is old school electronica. As one of the original members of the legendary German electronic band Kraftwerk, Bartos could easily be considered one of the pioneers of the genre.  This is the third solo album from the now 68-year old and it definitely recalls a sound from the past. There are hints of Pet Shop Boys in songs like “Without A Trace” and “Rhythms.” “The Binary Code” sounds like a video game malfunctioning for a minute and a half, while “Musica Ex Machina” keeps a beat to what sounds like my building’s fire alarm accidentally going off. There is no new ground broken on this record. But there’s something nostalgic and charming about it, which is payoff enough. 

Pigeonhole: Electronica

6/1/20

Lydia LovelessSomewhere Else (2014)

I rounded out my Best of 2014 list (just uploaded, see tab above) with this record from an artist new to my ears. She was only 23 when she recorded this and it was her third album! She’s a youngin’ with a healthy respect for history. “Hurt So Bad” was inspired by the tempestuous relationship between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, whose ten-year marriage ended in 1974. It’s possible even Loveless’ parents weren’t born then. 

Pigeonhole: Alternative country, honky tonk

March Picks

3/24/20

No one can accuse Beck of being a formulaic songwriter. He’s a chameleon without a signature sound. Last year’s Hyperspace was the latest example of his experimental approach. Produced along with Pharrell Williams, these eleven songs weave a narrative backed by everything from synth-pop to Delta blues to low-fi psyhcedelia. Beck tapped into Williams’ minimalism as a producer to offset his own maximalist tendencies, resulting in a dreamy and heady collection. This isn’t exactly the most memorable of the Beck ’s albums I know. It’s not at the level of Odelay or Colours. But there’s something satisfying about each cut. Of particular note are “Stratosphere,” “Uneventful Days” and “Chemical.” 

Pigeonhole: Synth-pop, alt-rock

3/23/20

It took some time to get into Ray LaMontagne’s 2014 album Supernova. It opens with the wispy “Lavender,” inducing a trance perfect for the next cut, “Airwaves,” which moves at Jack Johnson pace. And only then does LaMontagne lift the roof off with “She’s the One.” From there, the album just blossoms for me. “Pick Up a Gun” has all the suspense of a Raymond Chandler noir. “I love you, you don’t love me.”I mean how’s it all going to end up? (Spoiler alert: he doesn’t say). Then the rocker “Julia” seems like a modern day answer to “Gloria.” But my favorite has to be “Ojai,” which is kind of the perfect Ray LaMontagne song. “Smashing” left me kinda flat. Overall, exceptional.

Pigeonhole: Folk rock, psychedelic rock

3/22/20

Absolutely fascinating find. The late Pauline Oliveros was a composer and pioneer of experimental and electronic art music. Her album Deep Listening (1989) was recorded in a cistern fourteen-feet underground that once held two million gallons of water. The cavernous space creates a 45-second reverb, the end result being an absolutely haunting and surreal mix of sound and texture. Oliveros described deep listening as “a practice that is intended to heighten and expand consciousness of sound in as many dimensions of awareness and attentional dynamics as humanly possible.” She collaborated with trombonist Stuart Dempster and vocalist Panaiotis on this improvisational collection. Deep Listening has been coupled with cuts from Oliveros’ 1991 follow-up album, The Ready Made Boomerang, and has just been released as a two-album set (although not yet available on Spotify). A word of caution: In these dark, quarantine days that can feel like the end of times, this album may induce more depression than it alleviates. If there was ever a soundtrack to a scorched earth pandemic, this could be it. 

Pigeonhole: Experimental, electronic art

3/21/20

Before today I couldn’t have told you the difference between The War On Drugs and TV On The Radio, two bands I’ve known of for years but (thanks, I guess, to dyslexia) always mixed up. Now that I’ve listened to both their 2014 albums, I understand the vast differences. For starters, there are five main members of TOTR on Seeds (2014) while TWOD is basically one guy (Adam Granduciel; more on him in the next post). TOTR offers the more instrumentally robust of these albums, the particular standouts being “Ride,” “Could You” and the beautifully manic “Lazerray.” Seeds was kind of a tribute to their bassist Gerard Smith who died of lung cancer at thirty-six years old. This record is definitely on my list for 2014 bests.

Pigeonhole: Art rock, indie rock

3/20/20

Even though it was released in 2014, Lost In The Dream by The War on Drugs seems pertinent during Covid19 “lockdown.” It feels like music made in a state of depression, which in fact it was. Adam Granduciel, who is essentially The War On Drugs, battled some demons during the making of this album, which kept him in seclusion for days. He’s a one-man show, credited with about a dozen different instruments and synths. There are dark cuts (“Disappearing,” “Suffering”) which are severely hypnotic while somehow maintaining a soothing quality. This third album from TWOD is meticulously crafted, with Granduciel giving each song plenty of space to blossom.  

Pigeonhole: Indie rock, neo-psychedelia 

3/19/20

The Main Thing is the fifth album from the New Jersey band Real Estate and, when it was released in 2014, was considered their most mature collection. But the quality seems to drift off the longer the album goes on, and it goes on a bit too long. Nice harmonies “Falling Down.” “Paper Cut” about being stuck in a rut, is a nice jangly pop tune. Worth a listen.

Piegeonhole: Indi rock, jangle pop, dream pop

3/18/20

My top albums from 2015 list is up and ready for public scrutiny. I’ll mention the last album I heard before finishing the list, Get to Heaven by English frenetic art-pop group Everything, Everything, whose sound has been compared to a riot in a melody factory. Read a reference to the band as “math rock.” Wikipedia: “math rock is characterized by complex, atypical rhythmic structures, counterpoint, odd time signatures, angular melodies, and extended, often dissonant, chords.” Bottom line, there’s some great sound here, albeit a little scattershot. This album didn’t end up making my list, although it’s interesting enough to get honorable mention. 

Pigeonhole: Art pop, indie rock, electronica 

3/17/20

Noticed Bob Schneider was participating in the ACL Stands With Austin fundraiser to support bar and restaurant workers during the worldwide shutdown over Conva19. I’ve followed Schneider for years and seen him numerous times live.  He’s without question one of my favorite songwriters/performers. I’d never really sunk my teeth into his 2013 album Burden of Proof until now. As usual, it doesn’t disappoint. There are numerous songs that meet his always high-level of marksmanship, but ’m not a fan of the entire collection. The lead track “Digging for Icicles” is a Leonard Cohen imitation that doesn’t work for me. I wish he’d ended the album with a sweet little ditty he’s so capable of writing, rather than a cover of “Tomorrow” from Annie. But I quibble.  

Pigeonhole: Indie rock, singer/songwriter

3/16/20

Danielle Balbuena (aka 070 Shake) has dropped her debut full-length album and it’s deep with incredible soundShe broke out in 2018 with collaborations with Kanye West (“Ghost Town” and “Violent Crimes”) and Pusha T. The number 070 references the zip code where Shake was raised in North Bergen, New Jersey, which she says was full of “kids on drugs.” Her Dominican mother told her she’d rather Shake be in jail than be gay (which she is). It was in this environment that Shake began creating poetry and raps. On Modus Vivendi (Latin for “way of life”), it’s her deep, raspy vocals that really make these songs pop. There is clear rap influence (“The Pines”) but 070 Shake mixes things up a lot. “Guilty Conscience,” one of her top tunes on the streaming service, is basically pop. “Rocketship,” with great beats and vocal effects, is the highlight. From her previous releases, “Honey” is powerful and infectious, featuring vocals from Ralphy River and Hack & Tree.

Footnote: This blog is intended to be exclusively about music. But the daily diary format makes it almost impossible to ignore major current events. Today is Day 1 of the Coronavirus Quarantine here in Los Angeles, so it should be easier than ever to remain dedicated to Music4Sativa, a blog I started as a distraction from the chaos in the world. And that was before the pandemic. Let’s all stay healthy and listen to more music! 

Pigeonhole: Emo Rap,

3/15/20

The Chicago Transit Authority wasn’t exactly an instant success. Their self-titled debut in 1968 was competing with an already established experimental jazz-rock fusion ensemble called Blood, Sweat and Tears (“Spinning Wheel” and “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy”).  It took two years for the band eventually known simply as Chicago to chart with the single “Beginnings” from that debut album. Chicago got more attention after their second album (1971) with the singles “Make Me Smile” and “25 or 6 to 4,” and suddenly the popularity of that two-year-old debut started to rise. It would remain on the charts for 171 consecutive weeks (a record at the time), and be considered Chicago’s best overall record. I’d heard many of these songs before, but several were new to me. An hour and fifteen minutes long, most songs are drawn out explosions of sound coupled with some of the greatest horn work in rock history.  In addition to the aformentioned “Beginnings,” there are two other cuts here “I’m a Man” and “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is” that are very familiar to people of a certain age and are still a treat to hear. Parts of this record, however, earn respect based solely on historic value and not because they hold up to modern eardrums. “Liberation” gets a little out of hand, I mean if a fifteen-minute song can get out of hand. Terry Kath’s guitar solo is almost insufferable, as he is also on “Free Form Guitar.” But these are old school guitar solos, the ones that go on minute after minute after minute with no end in sight. Spent a couple hours coursing through the Chicago catalogue and have to say, I haven’t given Chicago sufficient credit over the years. They were at times absolutely amazing, and other times unlistenable. Through the years they became over produced and poppy, like “You’re the Inspiration,” “If You Leave Me Now,” “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” and “Call On Me,” all of which are pretty awful. It’s hard to believe it’s the same band, and in some cases because of personnel changes, it really wasn’t. 

Pigeonhole: Jazz rock, pop rock

3/14/20

Ego Death was the third album from funk R&B group The Internet and was nominated for a Grammy for Best Urban Contemporary Album in 2015. Lead by songwriter and vocalist Syd Bennet, The Internet draws musical influence from many sources and brings it all together for a truly unique sound. “Special Affair,” “Go With It” and “Girl” are standouts. Jannelle Monae and Tyler, The Creator make appearances. 

Pigeonhole: R&B, jazz hip hop, funk, electronic

3/13/20

Yesterday Alec Benjamin and today Lauv? I must be channeling a prepubescent schoolgirl. But I’ll admit it. I think both these artists are seriously talented. Lauv’s debut dropped last week and the entire hour of it is quite good. K-pop boy band BTS appears on “Who,” so the target market is clearly young and mostly female. These are all solid compositions; there are numerous sweet spots (“Who” isn’t one of them). But “Sweatpants” definitely is, as is “Mean It” and “I’m So Tired.”

Pigeonhole: Electropop 

3/12/20

Until today I was familiar with only a couple Alec Benjamin songs (“Jesus in LA,” and “Let Me Down Slowly”) but took a listen to Narrated For You (2017) and found him to be an incredible vocalist who reminds me at times of Jason Mraz. Even songs about school-boy crushes (“Annabelle’s Homework”) seem mature on a certain level. “Doesn’t matter how many papers I write/End of the equation won’t be you and I/Now I’m just another who got hurt/Doin’ Anabelle’s homework.” Before he was signed to his current record contract the Phoenix-raised Benjamin tried everything to get noticed, including playing his songs on guitar in the parking lots of Shawn Mendes and Troye Sivan concerts. His new EP, The Book of You and I is another special collection of songs. It’s all a little bubble gummy at times, but that’s what you have to expect with sweet songs about young love. (Highlights: “Oh My God”). 

Pigeonhole: Pop, indie

3/11/20

Not that I was planning on attending Coachella, but a band I would not have missed is English EDM duo Disclosure. The Grammy-nominated Caracal from 2015 was a phenomenal album that featured a bunch of guest talent, like Sam SmithLorde and The Weekend. Now, brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence are back with another great single, the pulsating house track “Ecstasy.” It completes an EP of songs previously released as singles, all five of which are worth a listen. “Tondo” and “Etran” both employ nice African beats while “Expressing What Matters” is a clever rework of Boz Scaggs’s “Lowdown,” utilizing large portions of the original song. 

Pigeonhole: EDM, house, dubstep

3/10/20

The fallout from coronavirus continued today as both Coachella and Stagecoach were postponed until the Fall. Took a listen to several of acts that had been scheduled for Stagecoach and found the vast majority of them way too commercial and polished for my taste in country. Midland is an exception. I was familiar with their fantastic 2017 debut On the Rocks, but took a pass through last year’s Live From The Palomino. They clearly put on a great show (although the mix on this live album leaves much to be desired). Lead singer Mark Wystrach has a great country voice and their sound has been compared to legendary George Strait. They hit all the classic country themes (i.e. “Drinking Problem” and “Cheating By The Rules”).

Pigeonhole: Country

3/9/20

The mother of all music conferences, South by Southwest, has been cancelled due to the coronavirus situation. Not that I’m personally affected. I attended some of the first SXSWs in the early Nineties, but it’s grown into something beyond my needs as a music fan. Curious to hear what I (and now everyone else) will be missing, I gave a listen to many of the bands scheduled and found the answer to be: not much. Incredibly, more than two THOUSAND bands had showcases scheduled. The official SXSW 2020 playlist on Spotify consists of thirteen hundred songs over eighty-three hours! With the help of shuffle play and the fast forward button, I jumped in and waited to be impressed. It was a long wait. Apparently the main qualification to be awarded a showcase is fogging a mirror. I found a couple worthy of note, including Bay-are indie pop collective Peach Tree Rascals, Nashville singer/songwriter Myylo and blues-rock guitarist Patrick Sweany. But my favorite (after more than two hours of sifting) was Sarah Shook & The Disarmers.  Shook’s gritty vocals coupled with solid songwriting put this band on the map in 2015 with the album Sidelong, which earned them the label of country punk. A review in LouderThanWar said it this way: “These are songs for a community of lost souls, misfits, giving praise to misery and one finger to loneliness.” The song “Fuck Up” shows Shook at her most raw: “It’s hard to wake up in the mornin’ when I just crawled into bed/With bad memories and alcohol swimming in my head/My mama used to tell me to buck up/I guess I’m just too much of a fuck up.

Pigeonhole: Country punk, singer/songwriter

3/8/20

If you search the name Daniele Baldelli on Wikipedia you won’t find anything. Instead you’ll be redirected to the page for “Afro/cosmic music” because Baldelli is considered the creator of this synth-heavy, African influenced dance music genre. I’ll let Wiki describe: “A freeform mixing style that allows for short hip-hop … as well as long, beat-matched segues; it sometimes incorporates added percussion and effects; and it permits major speed variations to force songs into a 90-110 beats per minute range.” Baldelli has been DJing in Europe since the Seventies but he’s far from washed up. There’s so much to like on his 2015 album Cosmic Drag, that is obviously retro at times and yet refreshingly new. It made a couple best of lists that year, and may make mine. There are four songs on this instrumental collection with the word “cosmic” in the title, so I guess Baldelli is trying to tell us something. It gets a little weak towards the end but the vast majority of it is fun, compelling and at times, cosmic, I guess.

Pigeonhole: Cosmo-disco, Afro-disco, synth

3/7/20

There’s not much left of the original Electric Light Orchestra, in fact the 2015 album Alone in the Universe finds front man Jeff Lynne the only remaining member to appear. But really Lynne was and still is ELO. He handles most of the instrumentation here, with wonderful results. This incarnation of the band is officially known as Jeff Lynne’s ELO, to differentiate it from the tribute and imitation bands in circulation. This is ELO’s thirteenth album and Lynne’s voice, sixty-seven years old and counting, is unencumbered by the years. When the original band disbanded in 1986, Lynne became highly sought-after as a producer and worked for the likes of Tom Petty, George Harrison and Roy Orbison. He produces here on this disc, as well.  

Pigeonhole: Pop-rock

3/6/20

Big Gigantic out of Boulder, Colo., has released their seventh album, Free Your Mind, which builds on my already warm and fuzzy feelings about them. Saxophonist Dominic Lalli and drummer Jeremy Salken are joined by a slew of talented vocalists for this celebration of self-love and humanism.  The title track (featuring vocalist and trumpeter Jennifer Hartswick) launches this solid collection of which the highlights are numerous (“Where I Wanna Be,” “Baad,” “Let The Speakers Blow,” “Burning Love”). My favorite might be the hot dance song “Higher.” They’re currently on tour with a 3D stage show (glasses provided) that’s part movie part concert. 

Pigeonhole: EDM

3/2-5/20

I made it sixty-one days, blogging every day about new music that found its way to my ears. But the streak ends there, thanks to a hectic work schedule that consumed the better part of four days. I believe I’m back on track, but only time will tell. To fill the gap in the MarchPosts playlist, I’ve uploaded four songs from my 2019 Best Of list: “Castaway” from Yuna, “Living Mirage” by Head and the Heart and “Up All Night” by Sault.

3/1/20

For my money, Rufus Wainwright hits more than he misses, although I understand his nasally vocals aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. His last great album (my opinion) was Release the Stars (2007), so there’s great anticipation for Unfollow the Rules,due out next month. In the meantime, the second single  (“Damsel In Distress”) was just released and it finds Wainwright as vocally impassioned as ever. Coupled with “Trouble In Paradise” (released last October), these teasers portend good things to come.  

Pigeonhole: Baroque Pop, operatic pop