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1/29/18

The past few days, every time I reach for my headphones to listen to music I’ve had to listen to a track from the new record from The Dangerous Summer. I don’t know why I was anticipating this more — I’ve loved this band and their lyrics and their style for years –but it kind of snuck up on me. Maybe I’ve entirely lost the ability to keep track of new releases, at least with the fervor I once did. Maybe my mental energy is bogged down by the world’s problems, personal stressors and the general, numbing myopia of adulthood, and it simply doesn’t have any more space to hold the same exuberance for new release calendars the way it once did. But since everything works out for a reason, I instead find myself pleasantly surprised and blissfully lost in new songs.

When I first heard The Dangerous Summer’s Reach for the Sun I was living alone in a small town at my first job out of college. I was figuring things out, I was terrified of something on a daily basis with varying degrees of rationality on my side. The songs on that record made me feel simultaneously understood and strong, as if the trials I was having in my life were the standard fare for pursuing a dream. I learned it by heart, then War Paint dropped the next year and I had even more of a story to follow. Sonically I love what they do as much as the lyrics — there are guitars that thrash, drums that pound and melodies that soar, all the trademark alt-rock/pop punk trademarks. But don’t let genre labels be misleading — there is more substance here than you’ll find in many associated bands, both in the way they build their songs and the darkness of the soul that flits at the edges of some songs and downright dominates others.

The self-titled release from this year is as mature in themes as those tackled on “Golden Record” but with a little more energy behind it — maybe it’s the time off since the band was last active that gave them an extra boost, maybe it’s the precarious world of modern adulthood that I myself am in the throes of experiencing that has provided some sort of muse. There’s a lot of love and romance on this record, but it’s not blind and naive, it’s weathered and worn — like on “Valium,” which seems to beg for the return of the most familiar love when the worst of the loneliness has passed. “Wild Again and” “Fire” are my favorite tracks so far, the first has an insistent longing for the present with my favorite lyrics, and the second and third is straight from the TDS playbook under “Personal Calls To Action.” I’ve been putting on “Live Forever” a lot too, it’s from a similar standpoint with a bit of a brooding beat to contrast some really stellar vocal performances.

It’s that kind of talking-to-himself persepctive that AJ Perdomo does best that I love so well. He reflects on the good and bad in his life with the same kind of clarity and always comes back to the same conclusions — to be steady in one’s own path, to keep to the beat of your own drum, but not be so hellbent on staring at your own two feet that you lose sight of the world around you. It is the exact message and inspiration I needed to find in the start of this calendar year, and I’m so grateful for the surprise, for the warmth of something familiar to melt into.

“But those legs drag again,
I feel them taking over now; walk again.
I might be coming closer,
so tired and dead.
I let emotion carry me back again-
and every road has given me something.”

~Fire,
The Dangerous Summer, The Dangerous Summer

7/6/17

The summer months always seem to go by faster than the rest. It’s a bit counterintuitive since the days are longer and full of sun, it seems like time should go by slower, but somehow all the events, holidays, vacations and visits pack everything together and somehow it’s almost the midpoint of July. In an attempt to savor all we get, I’m working on slowing my days down. Spending time with the doors and windows open and music playing loud and clear. Sitting out in the sun and hearing new tunes to open my mind. The latest of these listen is the new record Young from Overcoats, one of the most sonically interesting and pleasing new bands I’ve heard this year.

They blend the beautiful harmonies of First Aid Kit with the electro-pop tendencies of Haim or Lorde, filled with grooves and repeated hooks aplenty. They’re definitely a younger band but that doesn’t count against them in terms of depth; all there songs seem to have an element or idea about self-reflection, self-perception and self-reliance. “Leave the Light On” is a danceable anthem for independent life with some banging horn/key tones, “Smaller Than My Mother” is a raw confession of the inner resentments of relationships. “23” is another standout in this way, with its pointed, no-holding-back explanation of the mental toll of predictable love gone sour. My favorite so far is “Nighttime Hunger,” a pulsing track mourning the struggles of the anxious insomniac. l I love the way they drop out the melody and sing in tight, the way they embrace guttural rhythms close harmonies, the way their voices lilt and float over these eye-popping lyrics. They’ve got a definite style that runs through Young — a great example of an album you can just put on and fall into.

“Nighttime hunger and all the fears that it brings tend to fade in the light
In daytime I build a new me but still dread the night
I try to keep moving but I can’t seem to chase my monsters away
When the darkness comes it takes everything from me…”

~Nighttime Hunger
Overcoats, Young

6/12/17

This year I’ve had almost too much music to keep up with, what with lots of new releases from my favorite bands to much buzzed-about records from artists mainstream and emerging. Then, as often happens, through the magic of the Internet I was introduced to Jen Gloeckner, whose new album Vine is dark, sparkly and ambient affair.

Her voice has a raspy-yet-full, deep-yet-delicate quality, akin to Stevie Nicks or Fiona Apple. It’s a tone that demands to be listened to and taken seriously without pretense of what a female vocalist “ought” to sound like. Plus, the backing tracks of songs like “Ginger Ale” and “Counting Sheep” are so dreamy and echoey that her voice becomes the spine of the songs, with lots of brighter, glimmering tones around. Lyrically, Gloeckner can be sassy or thoughtful but ultimately sensual and expressive. She’s got that blend of assertive yet feminine down to a science, and it manifests musically, too — take the song “Breathe,” for example, that feels a little nu wave in its synth use with thoroughly modern drum beats mimicking a dance track.

She doesn’t come across like a singer-songwriting whose dying to fit in with the trends or fill some sort of cultural niche — and I like that about her. I like the way her songs come off as a manifestation of a time, place and scene only imagined by a sole creator to be extrapolated out in sound to listeners at large. It’s mood music through and through, equal parts other worldly, mature and serene.

4/24/17

I was walking down Sunset on my way to Amoeba for Record Store Day on Saturday when a song I’d never heard popped up on a Spotify playlist and stopped me dead in my tracks. The female lead vocalist had a fierce, fiery tone, the chorus had a hell of a hook and there was a horn section. The song was “Machine” by MisterWives, a band whose name I’d seen but work I’d never heard until about 54 hours ago, and now cannot stop listening to.

I love their blend of indie pop and soulful, danceable rock (is a ska reference required?) — and Mandy Lee’s cut-to-the-truth lyrical style. While their last album Our Own House made a bit of a critical splash (and their cover of Chance the Rapper’s “Same Drugs” is more than worth a listen), “Machine” has an extra oomph, a few more layers of sound and an undeniable, resistance-fueled attitude. It’s the kind of song that makes you want to charge to the front lines or throw your fists up in the air, the kind of song that makes you want to start a revolution — or at least pick your head up from the pillow and face the day clear-eyed and ready.

I love the way Mandy Lee can pack a ton of words into a line, or draw out a phrase between bars. She keeps things varied, and upbeat — and “Machine” is an all-out treatise on the way she and her band are not looking to conform to anyone’s notion of what they should but their own. It’s an attitude borne of adolescence that, for better or worse, that gets harder to hold onto as you get older, as the pressures of life and what’s “normal” seep into your daily life. It’s refreshing to hear a rallying cry against that, to be reassured that whoever you want to be want to be is the only opinion that matters.

Adding their forthcoming Connect the Dots to my list of must-heart albums for this spring — and ready to use them to soundtrack any dull mornings that need spicing up, parties that need poppy background with style or any time I need to find that spring my step.

“Pick apart every piece of me
and miss the point entirely.
I only did this to be sane,
not for you to know my name.

Go ‘head and spit the music out
please tell me more about your doubt.
Don’t fear I’ve heard it all before,
each time makes it easier to ignore.

Oh, I am tired of abiding by your rules.
Causing me to second guess my every single move.
You don’t know who I am
or what I have been through, no,
So don’t dare tell me what I
should and shouldn’t do ’cause
Not here, to lose,
Not here for you to choose,

How we should be
Cause we’re not part of your machine.
We’re not, we’re not part,
We’re not part of your machine…”
~Machine
MisterWives, Connect the Dots

3/29/17

I’ve stumbled across Sarah Jaffe in playlists around the Internet many times over the years, and today I was heartened to hear her gorgeous words and soothing voice on a playlist from Ambient Light Music. The song is called “Clementine,” and while it’s a few years old, it’s brand new to me — all that matters in that fresh attachment one finds with music.

She sort of hits the nail on the head of what it’s like to worry about your worrying, to watch your life speed by at the end of something while holding your breath for what’s next. The peripatetic motion of the string section (pizzicato, no?), and her repetitive vocals add a sense of urgency to a steady tempo and warm tone. She’s not too nervous, not too unsure, but still questioning, still wishing, still hoping.

“All that time wasted
I wish I was a little more delicate
I wish my…
I wish my name was Clementine.”

~Clementine
Sarah Jaffe, Suburban Nature

1/18/17

News of an upcoming Mutemath album has me on pins and needles, in a good way. This band is such a force to be reckoned with, bringing a bold, brassy and proggy sound to alt-rock. Lately they’ve gone into this really electronic/sample-sounding space and while at first I was hesitant, I’ve come to embrace the atmosphere. Overall, it’s still an ensemble effort with every player giving their all and playing their strengths — Darren King continues to hold down intricate grooves and Paul Meany’s introspection is at a peak. Mute Math songs have always had a self-empowerment, self-reflective bent to them; often they wonder about ways to get by, or how to transform an ordinary life into one that’s extraordinary. It’s why they’re one of my go-to bands when I need a little motivation.

Last year’s teaser of a single, “Changes,” wound up leading off a bunch of remixes and reinventions to songs from 2015’s Vitals, an album I’ve really come to love for its smooth confidence and sophisticated parts. But the remixes were good, too, and “Changes” is novel and noteworthy in its own right. Is there any rock band who is as good as playing around with delay, echoing effects, back-up snaps and ringing, resonant bell tones? The latest batch of Mutemath songs are a little bit 70s, a little bit 80s, and a little bit now, always wrapped up with a hook or two. The prominent piano line harkens back to their earlier work — and so does the overall theme and message, about being stuck in a place while seeking more on the other side. Their latest press release pledges yet another evolution in their sound on their fifth studio LP, and I’m really looking forward to it, and in the nearer term, pouring over their catalog all day and letting their bright, bold sounds add some color to a grey day.

“I can hear pallid choirs sing
From their headstone hymnals now
I’m just suffering from changes
Locked outside for good
Paper cut by turning pages
Sitting under dust cause
I’m not understood…”

~Changes
Mute Math, Changes

11/21/16

From the low and rumbled opening tones, Miranda Lambert’s “The Weight of These Wings” is one of the best country offerings of the year, and I’ve been losing myself in its beauty daily.

A double album is a rare and risky move, as who can put out that much work that merits attention all at once? It seems like you’re asking for filler. But here, every song offers a little bit more of the unfolding story, and it’s solid start to finish. After hearing the lead single “Vice” earlier this year I looked forward to what kind of soul-searching Lambert would offer up. I love the tones, topics and narratives she shares, the kind that clearly raise her from the radio country throne she once occupied into a higher plane of performers.

The opening track “Running Just In Case” is a slow burn, the kind that color most of the album. “I guess no one ever taught me how to stay,” she says, just one of the many poignant observations to come. “Getaway Driver” struck me as an instant favorite, with its harmonies and cyclical chords and ballad-style perspective. Then I found out it was a newly anticipated collaboration with Anderson East — I would say there’s some magic brewing in that pairing.

Lambert is bluesy and bold, and as assertive as we’ve come to expect, but she’s not just belting for its own sake. To the contrary, there’s more soft tones than there are loud ones. While this record is fueled by heartbreak (songs like “Tin Man” chronicle the pains of love) it doesn’t feel like a break-up album as much as come-back-together one. It’s Lambert’s spine, strength and vision for her life to come that ebb and flow, and she filters her many relationship reflections through a lens of moving forward as a whole person. It’s so much more motivational and introspective than maudlin or mushy as one might think “country” to be. And it’s not all bad news. Our narrator is a girl-about-town who travels and creates and believes in herself, and even love, despite its failings. “Pushin’ Time” is the romantic peak of the album, and it’s taken the mantle of my favorite Miranda track (previously held by “Bathroom Sink”).

While it’s the slow jams that steal the show, the upbeat tracks are still miles beyond what we heard on “Platinum.” They embrace lots more instrumentation and a folksier sound that’s more Willie Nelson or Bonnie Raitt than the radio country mainstays like Jason Aldean or Kenny Chesney that Lambert usually shares the charts with. Musically, there’s excellent choices and production on this album that keep it elevated but accessible. Acoustic guitars, horn sections, pedal steel, muted drums…it’s a very Americana lexicon paired with Lambert’s confessionals that make for a mature, full-fledged sound. She lets her voice crack and fall in very natural ways, instead of belting out pop-star style, though there’s tons of power in her voice seen on tracks like “Good Ol’ Days” and “To Learn Her.” At a time when excellent folk and country has captured modern audiences through the likes of Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson, Lambert looks to pivot from an established female artist who can command those same indie, picky audiences. To be fair, Kasey Musgraves and Ashley Monroe have done this too, but from a different angle, as Lambert already has a big following. Bottom line: “The Weight of These Wings” has eternal qualities that will appeal to listener beyond her core audience.

Lyrically, there’s plenty of moments that are either heartbreaking, cutting, comforting or inspiring. “I don’t have the nerve to use my heart,” she sings on the closer of the first album, just one example of many well-crafted lines in a song flooded with gorgeous steel guitar parts. I think I read somewhere that this is the most co-writing Lambert has done on a record, and it speaks beautifully to her self-aware and poetic. “I was born a bull in a China cabinet,” she says on “Things That Break,” kicking off 3:48 worth of metaphor and vivid imagery. “Keeper of the Flame” is a rallying cry to all those who has ever been called to be the kind of somebody who accomplishes something. Then there’s the bookend songs about highways that start and finish the album, with plenty more journeying in between.

Spout off her name to high-minded listeners and it might conjure up images of flashy sequined dresses, songs about trashing cheating ex’s cars with baseball bats and celebrity romances. But with all its beauty and poetry, “The Weight of These Wings” shows us a version of of Miranda Lambert that’s a far cry from the reputation or stereotypes. Instead of any trope, she’s simply herself, and as authentic, true, powerful, talented and strong as a woman, artist or woman artist ought to be.

“I didn’t plan on fallin’ fast;
I didn’t know I could be kissed like that.
No I’m tradin’ miles for minutes.
This bed’s too big without you in it.

Sometimes love acts out of spite,
And good things happen over night.
Can’t take it slow cause you and I are pushin’ time
You and I are pushin’ time.”
~Pushin’ Time
Miranda Lambert, The Weight of These Songs

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