February Reviews

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2/29/20

If Green Day had the quintessential musical statement during the George W. Bush era, then maybe the Drive-by Truckers have just offered the same for the times were in now. The Unraveling touches on opioids, babies in cages, white supremacy and church shootings, all of which sounds very current. There is no title track to The Unraveling, although “21st Century USA” goes a long way to explain the mood of this album. “If Amazon can deliver salvation/I’ll order it from my phone.” Like many alternative country acts, the Truckers record this album entirely in analog. I’m intrigued by their 2001 double album Southern Rock Opera, that apparently weaves the history of Lynyrd Skynyrd into a narrative about a fictitious band. I’ll get around to that one some day. Still trying to fall in love with the Truckers, but am very much in like with them. 

Pigeonhole: Alt-country, southern rock

2/28/20

New single by Phoebe Bridges “Garden Song” continues a long string of solid sound from her, both solo and collaborative. She made a big splash as lead vocalist of Better Oblivion Community Center, which released several nice songs last year including “Dylan Thomas” and “Exception to the Rule.” In 2018 she was part of supergroup boygenius (with Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus) and appeared on Ethan Gruska’s solo album on “Enough for Now,” touted on this page previously. Will find time to hear Bridges’ only full-length album, Stranger in the Alps (2017). I expect I’ll hear great things. 

Pigeonhole: Emo, indie rock, folk rock

2/27/20

Scratched the surface of the The Chemical Brothers’ catalogue and now realize thy make an incredible sound. The British electronic duo, along with the likes of Fat Boy Slim and Prodigy, are considered the pioneers of big beat dance music. Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons (not brothers) have been working together for twenty-eight years and remain fully relevant today. Heard both Born in the Echoes (2015) and Dig Your Own Hole (1997) and found both incredibly powerful. There are further depths to plumb for sure. 

Pigeonhole: Electro dance, house, big beat, 

2/26/20

Even though I’ve known the name David Allan Coe for decades, I know almost none of his catalogue, and I was once pretty dialed in to country music. Listened to his 16 Biggest Hits (1975) and found the great “You Never Even Called Me By My Name” (more on that in a sec). But almost none of the rest of it was recognizable. “Mona Lisa Lost Her Smile” I know (by somebody else) and this version is just rubbish, as is “Tanya Montana.” Really none of these songs hold up, although he sure does have the perfect country voice. But he’s such a corndog, even for country music. Some of it is just ridiculous, like “Now I Lay Me Down to Cheat.” If these are truly David Allan Coe’s greatest hits, I guess I haven’t been missing much. “You Never Even Called Me By My Name” was written by John Goodman and the legendary John Prine, although Prine later asked to be UNCREDITED for his part in this song, because he thought it was “goofy” and a “novelty.” And it was Coe’s biggest hit! I’m sure Coe had other quasi hits after 1975, but I’m not that interested in finding them.

Pigeonhole: Country

2/25/20

Arlo Parks is a musician and poet from South London who is predicted to be a breakthrough artist this year according to a BBC poll of music critics. She’s nineteen-years old (half Nigerian, a quarter Chadian and a quarter French) and credits Allen Ginsberg, Sylvia Plath and Fela Kuti as her writing inspirations. Her single “Eugene” dropped earlier this month and is yet another in a string of really good and fairly obscure songs by her. Parks is best known for the 2019 single “Cola,” which is “a reminder that betrayal is inevitable when it comes to pretty people that think flowers fix everything.” Last year she and English alternative band Easy Life released a sexy alt-R&B song called “Sangria” which is definitely worth a few listens. Arlo Parks seems on the verge of something, so stay tuned. 

Pigeonhole: Indie-pop, bedroom pop, indie folk

2/24/20

Having no idea what I was getting into, I queued up the HBO hour-long documentary Songs from The Golden One, and ended up in a stew of contradictory emotions. Whitmer Thomas is a 30-year-old comedian and musician from Alabama who narrates this story as part stand-up and part concert. The stage portion is shot at the Flora-Bama Lounge,  where his late mother always dreamed of playing with her band, but never did. He definitely knows how to keep an audience mesmerized. And the soundtrack isn’t bad, either. It kicks off with the line: “It fucking hurts to be alive/All the disposable fragility of life.” Which doesn’t sound all the comical, and truthfully neither is much of his stand-up, once you realize his stories about abandonment through flight and death are all true. The term Golden One is apparently how his mother referred to him just before she died. “Dumb and in Love” (a la Khalid’s “Young, Dumb and Broke”) is the most approachable of these songs, but it’s all very listenable. “Partied to Death” tackles his reluctance to imbibe in substances in light of his mother drinking herself death, as he says. His vocals occasionally tread in Lou Reed and David Bowie territory, like “The Codependent Enabler.” None of them are laugh-out-loud funny, with the exception of “Eat You Out.” But even then, you’re left feeling kind of sad for this guy, even though he’s comes off quite lovable, honest and kind. 

Pigeonhole: Emo, neo-punk, synth rock

2/23/20

Moses Sumney’s græ Part 1 has just dropped as the first half of a 20-song opus (the other half due out in May). Splitting the release in two seems wise. This is smart music that needs to be processed. Already there’s talk of it contending for album of the year. As produced pieces of music, there are cuts here that rival Radiohead’s best work (see “Neither/Nor”).Vocally, Sumney is as versatile and fresh as Britney Howard with avocal range that’s mind boggling. But he seems most comfortable in a crystal clear falsetto.  “Gagarin” is especially heady. Yuri Gagarin, whom I assume is Sumney’s inspiration here, was a Soviet cosmonaut and fist human to enter outer space (1961) and make a complete orbit of Earth. Just as this song seems to fade out, it’s resurrected to the sound of blowing wind and birdcalls. Gagarin later died in a routine training mission, which maybe informed the lyric: “I gave my life to something/Something bigger than me.” It’s an amazing piece. As are “Virile,” “In Bloom” and “Polly.” There are several short clips on the album which aren’t so much songs but statements, like “also also also and and and” where Sumney speaks the lines: “I insist upon my right to be multiple/Even more so, I insist upon the recognition of my multiplicity,” and he adds, “What I no longer do is take pains to explain it or defend it.” Which perhaps is addressing the curiousity about his sexuality (he describes himself as “aromantic” or free from the desire for romance). For me, Sumney is intriguing on many levels as he positions himself to become one of the important voices of modern music. Expectations are sky high for Part 2

Pigeonhole: lo-fi, electro soul, art rock 

2/22/20

Mother Earth’s Plantasia (1976) is an electronic album by Mort Garson which I stumbled on while shuffling through the High Maintenance playlist on Spotify. As if that album title wasn’t charming enough, there’s a subtitle: Warm Earth Music for Plants… and the People Who Love Them. This forty-six-year old album was given away free with the purchase of houseplants at a long-defunct Los Angeles store called Mother Earth, known then as a counter-cultural hangout. These compositions were meant for the listening pleasure of houseplants, in the wake of the huge success of the book The Secret Life of Plants (1973). Maybe I’m part houseplant because it was pretty easy to slip into a good mood while listening to this trippy collection of melodic tunes. The range of emotions goes from peppy to jovial. Garson worked with the likes of Glen Campbell, Brenda Lee and Doris Day before the invention of the first synthesizer, the moog, which he uses on this album with wonderful results. Songs have titles like “Ode to an African Violet” (incredible), “Symphony for a Spider Plant” and “Concerto for Philodendron & Pothos.” Could it all be any more precious? The intended audience here is vegetation (in more ways than one). It definitely passes the modern-day chill test. Just ask the asparagus fern in the corner. 

Pigeonhole: Electronic, experimental, ambient

2/21/20

Patrick Droney is a relative unknown despite “High Hopes” notching over eight million listens to date. But his obscurity should soon be a thing of the past based on the six songs streaming right now, including “The Wire,” just released today. I saw a comparison to John Mayer, which might be a little premature, although Droney definitely has the chops and looks. This soulful pop feels Nashville influenced, with hints of country, rock and blues. Droney’s first album came out when he was sixteen and around that time supposedly “toured” with legends B.B. King and James Brown, although can’t find any specifics.  He shares writing duties here with Kevin Griffin (formerly of Better than Ezra), and it’s a partnership that feels very fruitful going forward. Pretty excited about this find! 

Pigeonhole: pop-rock, blues-rock

2/20/20

Stumbled upon the brother and sister duo Angus & Julia Stone and found their 2017 full-length album Snow thoroughly enjoyable. The Stones have won several Australian versions of the Grammy Award, but their American exposure has been limited to appearances at Coachella, Bonnaroo and Austin City Limits. “Sleep Alone” is a real standout. It’s a quiet little journey with Julia’s baby girl voice leading to a terrestrial ending, trailing off to a drumbeat that lasts nearly a minute. Also really enjoyed “Chateau,” “Snow” and “Nothing Else.” Then, then, then! It got better. Gave Down The Way (2010) a spin and, boy it’s wonderful, particularly a huge section of the middle. The opening tracks (“Hold On” and “Black Crow”) are fine, but they seem to only offer momentum for what’s to come. Starting with “For You,” this album gets really good. “Big Jet Plane” is wonderfully and the only recognizable song. “Draw Your Swords” is chillingly beautiful while “Walk It Off” is a great piece about having the last laugh in a dysfunctional relationship. A very victorious feel to it.  

Walk it off now
You can tell them all how much I let you down
Walk it off dear
Standing here with your tail between your legs

Pigeonhole: Lo-fi, chill, folk rock

2/19/20

What better time than now for Green Day to offer a sequel to American Idiot, the 2004 album (turned musical) that so brilliantly addressed an era when wars were started on false premises and imbeciles ran the government. But that’s not what Green Day did on their new, Father of All Motherfuckers. This isn’t a statement album. Fans who like Green Day because they’re in your face and offer no apologies should like what they find here. In fact, there aren’t many surprises to this, their thirteenth album. It’s still don’t-give-a-shit rock n roll. This rapid-fire, post-grunge collection makes its point in just over twenty-six minutes, spits a loogie in defiance, then storms off. Lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong and his mates seem to defy age, hitting hard with songs like “Stab You In The Heart” and the title track.  “Oh Yeah” might sound familiar to people of a certain generation. It samples Joan Jett’s 1980 version of “Do You Wanna Touch Me,” a song (I didn’t realize) that was originally released by English glam rocker Gary Glitter, who was later convicted of rape (which makes the title even creepier). Proceeds from the song are being donated to a sexual assault victims organization. Green Day will probably become the Rolling Stones of their era, a band that defies age, keeps giving fans what they want, and never goes away. More power to ‘em!

Pigeonhole: Rock, grunge

2/18/20

Radiohead guitarist Ed O’Brien will release the solo album Earth this April under the name EOB.  If the three singles are any indication, it should be a mighty delicious collection. The latest release, “Shangri-La,” is ripe with layered hooks and feels very much in keeping with Radiohead’s aura.  “Brasil” (the Portuguese spelling) was released last December and is really two different songs, a methodic acoustic half with unfiltered vocals that leads into a pulsating electronic second half. The trippy and psychedelic  “Santa Teresa” was the first single (last October) and is so soothing it’d be perfect while getting a massage in a med spa. O’Brien is credited with most of the instrumentation on these cuts. He worked with legendary English producer Mark “Flood” Ellis and engineer Catherine Marks here. Can’t wait for the rest of it.

Pigeonhole: Alt-rock, electronic, experimental

2/17/20

Hearing “Enough for Now” by Ethan Gruska on this day, when I’m feeling particularly self-reflective, felt very on the nose. The chorus seems to have the perfect answer to the question: Am I okay with where I am right now?  


Maybe I’ll try
Maybe I’ll die trying
To let this be enough
For now
I won’t wish for better luck

Being content with the way things are is such a nice idea, particularly when sung so convincingly. This duet with singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers is by far the highlight on En Garde, which was just released in January. Gruska’s father is Emmy-nominated composer Jay Gruska, who scored for such television shows as Charmed and Supernatural. And (get this) Ethan’s maternal grandfather is the legendary film composer John Williams. This is Gruska’s debut album, after collaborating last year on a project with Fiona Apple. With all that star power behind him, maybe Ethan’s next stab at a solo effort will grab me more.

Pigeonhole: Indie-pop, indie-folk

2/16/20

When I think of grunge granddads Stone Temple Pilots the last thing that comes to mind is ballads and flute solos. But there’s plenty of both on their newest release Perdida. Translated from Spanish, perdida means “lost,” which naysayers might see as an appropriate description for this latest effort. But for me, it delivers far more than I would have predicted. I like STP when they’re in full head-banging mood, like “Vasoline” or “Interstate Love Song.”  But they seem far more comfortable at this quieter pace than I would have guessed. There are more surprises on this eighth STP album than just the flute, like violins, cellos and even a fretless zither. If you try and forget that you’re listening to the Stone Temple Pilots, and all the preconceived notions that come with that, this is an enjoyable collection. “She’s My Queen” and “Sunburst” are notable standouts. STP is on their third lead singer (Jeff Gutt) and he does an admirable job. But can anyone really replace the late great Scott Weiland

Pigeonhole: Alt-rock, grunge

2/15/20

One of my favorite newcomers last year was the 21-year-old genderqueer artist Mikaela Straus, otherwise known as King Princess. I found each cut on her full-length LP Cheap Queen really good. Two years ago her career took off with her first-ever single “1950.” When Harry Styles (formerly of One Direction) mentioned the song in a tweet, King Princess went viral and quickly found herself on Colbert and SNL. The deluxe version of Cheap Queen came out yesterday and includes five unreleased songs, including “Ohio,” a heartache ode to a lover who has moved away to the Buckeye state. I’m still waiting for these new songs to grab me, like pretty much everything else did on Cheap Queen. At less than two minutes, one feels unfinished (“All Dressed in White”) another just falls flat (“Back of a Cab”). “Best Friend” is the best of the four, but doesn’t add anything to the brilliance of the original thirteen-song collection of Cheap Queen. She’s still a budding superstar, far more interesting to me than Billie Eilish, who’s taking up most of the oxygen in the young female category these days.

Pigeonhole: Indie-pop, pop-rock

2/14/20

The new album from house giant Tame Impala was slated for release almost a year ago, but a last-minute decision was made that it needed more work. The release was aborted, a listening party was held and the feedback was used to make adjustments. If the single “Borderline” is any indication, the delay and tinkering didn’t help. Last year’s “Borderline” is much stronger than the one released today on The Slow Rush. It’s thinner and not as robust as the 2019 single. This is the forth album from the Australian mastermind of Tame Impala, Kevin Parker. Expectations were unrealistically high after the huge success of 2015’s Currents. But the new album often feels like background music. The lone standout for me is “Lost In Yesterday,” which is very much in keeping with the Tame Impala sound of the past. I’ll keep giving the rest of it a chance.

Pigeonhole: Psychedelic, experimental

2/13/20

Not sure yet if I love Shamir yet but found most of Ratchet compelling. It kept my attention, start to finish, so that’s something. This Vegas lo-fi indie artist was barely twenty when this came out, and he’s since released three other albums. I started here since it made a few top albums lists for 2015.  Several highlights, but I’ll call out “Head In The Clouds,” because it’s a truly killer dance jam. I’ll take another pass, when I’m not so tired.

Pigeonhole: Indie rock, electronic, hip house

2/12/20

Moses Sumney’s new single “Cut Me” just dropped and it’s another incredibly complex piece from this emerging superstar. This is the fourth song to be released from his upcoming double album, which Sumney has described as “a patchwork about grayness.” “Cut Me” is a multi-dimensional song, textured with a horn section and violin, and shows off his incredible voice, particularly in falsetto. Prince was arguably one of the greats of his time and for some reason it seems like Moses Sumney has arrived to carry on where Prince left off.  Not that there’s much similarity in their music. But Prince was groundbreaking, he did things musically that no one else could do. The same is true about Sumner and his unbridled musical imagination. 

Pigeonhole: Indie rock, electro-soul, folk art rock, baroque pop

2/11/20

Caroline Polachek was brought to my attention originally through the incredible song “Go As A Dream.” Now, hearing the rest of Pang and discovering the true depth of Polachek’s talent. This former member of Chairlift has trained with opera and baroque vocal coaches, which might explain some of her vocal dexterity. There are times (“Look At Me Know”) when the music feels almost superfluous because her voice is so intoxicating. The title tack sounds like what a pangshould sound like, a persistent ping with sudden and periodic explosions. Like hunger pangs or love. The haunting “Insomnia” is simply otherworldly. Maybe the best example of her boundless range is “Caroline Shut Up.” There is nothing I can say about a song like “Door” that wold do it justice. I can’t even pick a favorite line, so I’ll go with this one: “The door slams hard behind you/When you leave the house of judgment.”The production genius of this collection also can’t be understated. There are moments that sound fully orchestrated while other times the production is noticeably sparse. The album ends with a song called “Parachute,” which offers the sense of slowly being let back down to earth. This collection is so beautiful, and the ending so apropos, it just might make you weep. I can tell by her description in “Parachute” that she’s probably talking about the same place I went skydiving, near Camarillo. This imagery is so lovely it’s like taking the jump all over again. Polachek also produced this record, so her musical instincts are apparently limitless. There’s more to explore! Polachek has also recorded under the names Ramona Lisa and her initials CEP which will certainly get a listen soon. 

Pigeonhole: Electropop, art pop, indie pop

2/10/20

I claim to be a huge Wilco fan although I have to confess before tonight I had never heard Star Wars. I’m an old school Wilco fan. I’ve been listening to these guys since they were Uncle Tupelo. They’ve always been an abundantly talented group of songwriters and musicians, even though there are times they lose me. I checked out after 2002’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, which is among my favorite records ever. But the follow-up album didn’t grab me. And I can’t warm up to last year’s Ode to Joy (which is anything but joyfull). Schmilco from 2016 had some moments, but often left me emotionless. So I’m thrilled to find Star Wars because it sounds like the Wilco I fell in love with. There’s a splendid surprise around every corner. “Random Name Generator” is among the best songs Wilco has ever recorded (and that’s a damn long list), while “You Satellite” is equally extraordinary and could just as easily be Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground I’m hearing. The way Tweedy builds the tension over five minutes is pure genius. “Pickled Ginger” is a guitar lovers wet dream.  “Cold Slope” is yet another classic Wilco tune. It’s only a thirty-three minute album, but a lot happens in a short time. Maybe someday the boys will get back to this kind of sound. 

Pigeonhole: Alt-rock, alt-country, art rock, experimental

2/9/20

I wasn’t overly familiar with Britpop group Blur until today. I liked a few of their singles over the years, specifically “Song 2” and “Girls and Boys.” When it came to the old rivalry between the two Brit heavy weights of the Nineties, Blur and Oasis, I guess I was on team Oasis. But took a listen to Blur’s 1994 record Parklife and found it utterly satisfying. Damon Albarn is an incredible vocalist and he brings added texture to these songs even when he’s essentially screaming. Certain cuts are instantly lovable, like “London Loves” and “Tracy Jacks,” both perfect mixes of jangly guitar and delicious synth. “To The End” flirts with excess (a string section and French backing vocals) but ultimately pays off. My original intent was to hear Blur’s 2015 The Magic Whip,which I eventually did. It followed a twelve-year recording absence and materialized in Hong Kong (thus the Chinese lettering on the cover) after the band was stranded there following a cancelled festival appearance. There’s a lot to like here, particularly “Go Out” and the breezy “Ong Ong.” Albarn is busy with his other project, the “virtual band” Gorillaz, which is releasing one song a month this year. “Momentary Bliss” featuring rapper Slowthai came out a couple weeks ago and it’s, ah, fine. Having said all this, Parklife is what I’ll return to most going forward.

Pigeonhole: Britpop, indie rock

2/8/20

Thrilled that Christine and the Queens have released a new single, “People, I’ve been sad.” Her 2018 album Chris was probably my favorite record of that year and this new single picks up seamlessly from there. Her crystal clear vocal mixes are as wonderful as ever, and again finds her transitioning between French and English. Her melancholy take on the world feels heartfelt. Also familir is her call-and-response with the background singers. This new tune leaves me anxiously awaiting the new, full-length album to follow.

Pigeonhole: Synth-pop, electropop

2/7/20

Twenty-three year old Alexander Crossan better known as British electronic producer and musician Mura Masa released his second album, R.Y.C., today. There are times I feel two generations removed from the message here, but I love it just the same.  There’s plenty of generational content that’s not meant for people my age. “Everybody do the no-hope generation/The new hip sensation craze sweeping the nation.” Or: “We’re missing out/So young and full of doubt.” And again in the spoken-word song “a meeting at an oak tree” (all lower case), where tells a story about getting caught sneaking into his girlfriend’s room, then leaves through the bedroom window when her dad comes in and moments later calls from down the street saying, “come as soon as possible and please bring me a banana.” Relatable if you’re in high school, I guess, but the songs pull me in.  Particularly like the contributions by female vocalists. “In My Mind” is a wonderfully trippy song powered by a pleasant pulse. The single “Teenage Headache Dreams” is a duet with Ellie Rowsell from Wolf Alice, and is wonderful. The final cut “nocturne for strings and a conversation” (also all lower case) is like feeling morphine kick in.  It eases the listener out of one experience and into some other dimension. A quick pass through Mura Masa’s only other record, released when he was eighteen years old, did nothing for me. He’s come a long ways in five years.

Pigeonhole: Nu-disco, Alte R&B

2/6/20

This is why I comb through records, year by year, to see what I missed while I was busy doing other things. Ludic Navarre came to my attention today now that 2015 is my current year in review. Better known as St. Germain, this French DJ and producer has been melding nu jazz and house since the early Nineties. This self-titled album was heavily influenced by the music of Mali and for lack of a better description it could be categorized under deep house. The use of exotic instruments and multi-cultural inflences make this unlike anything I’ve ever heard. Jazz elements with African percussion beat, this album features kora (a Mandinka harp built from a small calabash cut in half and covered with cow skin) a n’goni (a West African lute guitar), with electronic sequences and layers. The opening track “Real Blues” features the great blues legend Lightin’ Hopkins on vocals. “Hanky-Panky” follow with a nice east Indian flavor. There’s a short calming moment at the beginning of “Family Tree,” a nearly eight-minute piece, before a male voice pours a sweet chant on top of a gathering beat. “Mary L” starts like a horror flick then segues into another smooth after-hours jazz vibe. I can’t say enough about this album. But I’ll stop for now.

Pigeonhole: Nu-jazz, downtempo, deep house,

2/5/20

Noticed the name C.W. Stoneking on the Troubadour schedule and, being unfamiliar, I went directly to the ol’ music library in my pocket. Turns out Stoneking is quite the big deal in his native Australia. The 45-year-old “neo” blues singer and guitarist could easily be confused with the Delta bluesmen of the twenties or thirties. There are moments on Gon’ Boogaloo (2014) where he seems to channel the great blues legend Robert Johnson.  He tours with a clever mix of tuba, cornet and trombone. This record was recorded in only two days and is simply Stoneking on guitar accompanied by bass, drums and backing vocals, all of them huddled around two microphones. Tom Waits and Leon Redbone came to mind at times. But despite all the apparent influences, there’s something refreshing unique about Stoneking. This feels like a dying genre, so it’s nice to see someone still breathing life into it.

Pigeonhole: Blues, vaudeville blues, calypso, lo-fi

2/4/20

Just found out the legendary Sleepy LaBeef died the day after Christmas at the age of 84. There was nobody else quite like Sleepy LaBeef. He was the Jerry Lee Lewis of guitar. An old-time rock ‘n’ roller (his first single was in 1957), LaBeef was a little bit rockabilly, a little bit honky-tonk and a whole lot of fun. His massive frame (6-foot-6) and a booming bass voice took over any room he played. He released some wonderful studio albums, the 1994 Strange Things Happening being the best. But his true genius was on stage. The 1987 live recording Nothin’ But The Truth remains one of my all-time favorites and includes the delightful (and perhaps autobiographical) “Boogie and the Wayside Lounge.” Of course time is a cruel beast. I listened to the soundtrack from the 2013 documentary Sleepy LaBeef Rides Again, also a live recording but lacking the punch of the 1987 show. His last studio album Rides Again from 2012 demonstrated how things had changed. Despite health problems, he was gigging right up to the end. His last performance was four months before he died. Saw him in a small bar in Tempe, AZ, sometime in the late Eighties and will never forget it. RIP sir. 

Pigeonhole: Rockabilly, honky-tonk, country rock

2/3/20 

Again, no politics here. But I’m fascinated by the drama of the moment in Beach Boys land, specifically that the Mike Love-led Beach Boys are scheduled to play a convention for a group that promotes trophy hunting, which has Brian Wilson in a tizzy and asking people to sign a petition to stop the concert. That’ll be a fun one to watch, but in the meantime it reminded me to return to The Smile Sessions, a box set from 2011 that includes the legendary recordings from the late Sixties which were never officially released. There are plenty of extras included here, and totals forty cuts in all. At two hours and twenty minutes, it needs to be heard in installments. Entirely written and produced by Wilson, it is a fascinating collection of sound, some of it ambient, some of it found, some of it studio chatter. Other than the ubiquitous “Good Vibrations,” most of these songs are obscure to the casual listener. I’m not a huge Beach Boys fan but every time I hear them I’m amazed at what they could do, particularly vocally. Sometimes like a dream, sometimes like a circus, The Smile Sessions is ultimately complex and delightful. But Smile for me is like a great novel that I only need to read one time. That said, it should be heard by anyone interested in music and the history of rock. I now feel compelled to hear Smiley Smile (1967), the official Beach Boys record from those sessions, as well as Wilson’s 2004 Brian Wilson Presents Smile, which is his fresh take on the original instrumental and vocal arrangements.  

Pigeonhole: Rock, pop rock, surf, psychedelia

2/2/20

I loved Amber Mark’s 2018 EP Conexão and am stoked to hear her new single, “Generous,” picks up right where she left off. It’s a sexy bedroom groove that references 50 Shades of Grey and kicks off with the line: “First let me give your eyes a taste/Of what’s underneath this lingerie.” Comparisons to the legendary Sade could certainly be forgiven and were perhaps fueled by her cover of Sade’s “Stronger than Pride” on Conexão. A fan of the legendary composer Henry Mancini, Mark wanted to sample his work and does so here with a snippet from “Lujon.” A gifted songwriter, producer and performer, it feels like Mark is just getting started.  She’s booked at Coachella this spring.

Pigeonhole: R&B, alt-R&B

2/1/20

My introduction to DMA’s came today with two just-released singles. Instantly drawn in by the throb beat of “Life Is a Game of Changing,” which eventually builds into a soaring dance number. The other single (“Silver”) took a moment to come together but it eventually did, thanks to a catchy chorus. DMA’s is a three-piece rock band formed in 2012 in Sydney Australia. Before now their best-known song was “Delete,” a simple acoustic guitar arrangement paired with the gentle vocals of Thomas O’Dell. The comparisons to Liam Gallagher of Oasis are definitely warranted. DMA’s only full-length record came out in 2016 and feels poppier, but still worth a listen. Heard some Matthew Sweet in O’Dell’s vocals on the opening track “Dawning.” Their rendition of Madonna’s “Beautiful Stranger” from last year’s MTV Unplugged session is terrific, as is their incredible cover of Cher’s “Believe” on the Australian radio show Like A Version (available only on Youtube, that I could find).  Hmmm. A band that covers gay icons like Cher and Madonna might be signaling something. Or maybe nothing at all. Who am I to say. I’m just glad the DMA’s are now on my radar.

Pigeonhole: Britpop, indie rock