Song Spotlight: Fan The Flames – Sheer Mag

Sometimes, you just need a little loud and raucous rock’n’roll. This gutsy quintet from Philadelphia provides just that. They’ve only released a couple of EPs so far, and I wouldn’t say they are the greatest rock’n’roll song writers yet, but their send EP was better than their first, and their music is loud and rowdy and it works.

Album Review: SVIIB – School of Seven Bells

SVIIB is the 4th and, regrettably, final studio album from dream-pop/synth-pop band School of Seven Bells. Benjamin Curtis, one of the principles in the band died from lymphoma during the middle of recording the album, which was finished by his romantic and creative partner, Alejandra Deheza, with the support and assistance of  producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen.

The album set the tone with the driven and exultant Ablaze, a song about being brought to life again. “You set my heart ablaze”, sings Deheza, and the song makes you feel it.  As the album progresses, it is both elegiac and sweetly melancholic, with clear remembrances of one partner for another, and a joy expressed in having had the experience.

Recommendation: Buy It

Songs I have a Playlist For: Ablaze, Open Your Eyes. A Thousand Times More, Elias

Clunkers I will Thumbs Down: Didn’t have one for this album.

Album releases, starting February 26th

Febuary 26th:
Loop the Loop – Bullion
Meet The Humans – Steve Mason
When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired – Mothers
Grandfeathered – Pinkshinyultrablast
At Hope’s Ravine – Holy Esque
Magnetic Season – Mugstar
Stargazer – Golden Dawn Arkestra
Hard Settle, Ain’t Troubled – Donovan Woods
You’re a Man Now, Boy – Raleigh Richards
First Light – Sennen
Hold On Dreamer – Frøkedal
Post Society – Voivod
SVIIB – School of Seven Bells
Dig In Deep – Bonnie Raitt
Outdoor Museum of Fractals/557Hz – James Holden, Camilo Tirado, & Luke Abbot
Feels – Feels
The Ridge – Sara Neufeld
Plaza – Quilt
How to Dance – Mount Moriah
Hills End – DMA’s
Honest Man – Matt Andersen
Death Index – Death Index
Imperium Simulacra – Black Cobra
99¢ – Santigold
Going Down in History – Waco Brothers
For All Kings – Anthrax
Higher Power – The Dirty Nil
I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It- The 1975
Sisters – Odd Nosdam
Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin – Willie Nelson
Convenanza – Andy Weatherall
Talk To Me So I Can Fall Asleep – Crater
GeorgeFest: A Night To Celebrate the Music of George Harrison – Various Artists
Stranger Things – Yuck
This Unruly Mess I’ve Made – Macklemore and Ryan Lewis
How Can We Fix This? – Shields
Escapism – Library Tapes
Keep It Together – Lily and Madeline
HXLT – HXLT
This life denied me your love – Gorgio Tuma
Heartwatch – Heartwatch
2013 – Meilyr Jones
Mother Town Hall – Bill Pritchard
G0d Don’t Ever Change, The Songs of Blind Willie Johnson – Various Artists
Vroom Vroom – Charlie XCX
NIHL – Altarage
Perfect Tense- Fahlula
Live From Lexxi’s Mom’s Garage – Steel Panther
Salvation (Deluxe Edition) – Madeline Juno
The Occultation Of Light – Mondo Drag
Sur le fil du rasoir – Kool Shen
Ride of Your Life – Tinashe

Album Review: My Wild West – Lissie

My Wild West opens with a kind of maudlin reminiscence of California in Hollywood. I feel like this entire album is a forlorn breakup album with LA or California…I’m not exactly sure which.

Not that it means My Wild West is a bad album. It’s just a little self-absorbed at times. Lissie is a good song writer, with a taste for pretty straightforward pop, and occasionally something more folk-inflected. He voice is always a little husky, a little gravely. It’s just that sometimes, she a little too slick for her own good.

In any event, the album starts out with a breakup song for  some part of her life, and ends up with a love song for some new part of her life, in Ojai, which is clearly a about her retreat and rejuvenation in the moderately remote Ojai, California. In between, she has some chargier stuff (My Wild West, Hero, Daughters) and some stuff that’s a little more reflective and introspective (Stay, Go For a Walk).

Recommendation: Stream It

Songs I Have a Playlist For: Don’t You Give Up On Me, Together or Apart, Hollywood

Clunkers I Will Thumbs Down: Hero

Song Spotlight: Elysium – Bear’s Den

If you hadn’t figured it out by looking at my favorites list, or some of the other song spotlights, I have a fondness for neo-folk bands, especially those with unusual instrumentation.

I actually discovered Bear’s Den relatively recently, while wandering around at random on YouTube and I’ve liked what I’ve seen of theirs. I like the play of the trumpet against the guitars and banjo here. They could use a little more dynamic range, but it’s a pretty song and I enjoyed it.

Album Releases starting February 19th

February 19:
Traditional Synthesizer Music – Venetian Snares
Control – Rosie Lowe
Colour Theory – Submotion Orchestra
Armour – Rae Spoon
Velvet Arc – Chuck Johnson
Golden Daze – Golden Daze
Voix – Aluk Todolo
DJ-Kicks – Moodymann
Love Yes – Teen
Basar – Africaine 808
Demain Est Une Autre Nutt – Essaie Pas
Ultimate Care II – Matmok
Side Pony – Lake Street Dive
In My Mind – BJ the Chicago Kid
On Vacation – CFCF
DAZE – Brood Ma
Mowing – Michael Nau
Painting With – Animal Collective
Livin’ On A High Note – Mavis Staples
neo – So Pitted
The Heretic’s Bargain – Rangda
Seth Bogart – Seth Bogart
Secrets – Deep Sea Diver
Sittin’ Heavy – Monster Truck
Life Of Pause – Wild Nothing
Victorious – Wolf Mother
LNZNDRF – LNZNDRF
Taking One for the Team – Simple Plan
Need Your Light – Ra Ra Riot
Reverie – Postiljonen
Banshee – The Cave Singers
Good To Love – FKA Twigs
Grasque – Choir of Young Believers
114 – Lais
Dig Deep – After the Burial
Coming Down: Sessions In April – Marching Church
The Infinite Disclosure of Life Went Silent – Goldlog
Cosmosis Vol 2. – Fholston Paradigm
Ritualize – Lushlife
OLD HABITS DIE HARD – Allie X
Javelin – Jordan Klassen
Hoops – The Rubens
Lighter in the Dark – Sister Hazel
Heavy Crown – Last In Line
EP – C Duncan
Something – Purling Hiss
The Stranger – Creeper
Lunar Prelude – Delain
Benny… – Benny Hester[reissue]
Chixtape 3- Tory Lanez
Come Find Yourself (201th Anniversary Edition) – Fun Lovin’ Criminals
Living Hour – Living Hour
Star Wars Headspace – Various Artists
Night Flowers – Tiny Deaths
The Art of the Hustle – Yo Gotti
It Calls On Me – Doug Tuttle
Memoires Vive – Grand Blanc
Chinese Songs for Bad Boys – Combomatix
Undercurrents – Amy Duncan
Sugar Teeth – Tangerine
Violet City Lantern – Murals
Life Is Alright, Everybody Dies- Kal Marks
All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace – Universal Thee

Quick Hits: King, Hinds, DIIV, Chthe’ilist

We are King – King
It was an okay R&B record. At least as good as Jazmine Sullivan’s last year. Just not something that I’m going to want to listen to over and over.
Recommendation: Stream It

Leave Me Alone – Hinds
Meh. This album was a darling of the indie rock press. I thought it was one note and a little boring. The hype reminded me of Haim all over again, but I liked Haim better.
Recommendation: Stream It

Le Denier Crépuscule – Chthe’ilist
This album was acutally a surprise. It’s a death metal album that came very close to operatic metal, just a little darker. Honestly, if it had aimed more at the operatic metal tone, I’d have probably done a review of this album. It’s a very good death metal album, it’s just that death metal isn’t really my thing.
Recommendation: Stream it (if you really like death metal, Buy It. It’s pretty good)

Is The Is Are – DIIV
I have two problems with this album. It’s extremely self-indulgent, in a way that doesn’t interest me. And it’s too long. It’s a double album, so it’s supposed to be long, but the length, with the tone of the album, and the overall feel just didn’t hold my attention. I couldn’t sit through this album the seven or eight times minimum that I feel I want to to write a real review.
Recommendation: Stream It

Let Me Get By – Tedeschi Trucks Band
This album had potential. it was well written and well performed, but I didn’t feel like the band knew what they wanted to be. Some southern rock here, some jazz rock there, some bluesy rock there… It’s fine to have variety, but there wasn’t enough to unify the album for my tastes.
Recommendation: Stream It

Album Review: Cardinal – Pinegrove

 

Cardinal is the first album by Montclair, NJ indie folk-rock band Pinegrove.  Opening with Old Friends, a song that’s equal parts of nostalgia and self-reflection, and closing with New Friends, forward-looking and expansive. The album moves in this direction, gradually moving from looking back, to looking forward.

This band’s influences seem to be all over the place from alt-rock bands to straight up folk acts and everything in between. I can hear strains like Sufjan Stevens and the Avett Brothers, Flaming Lips and Arcade Fire, all echoing through intimate, rough guitar and the pleasant vocal twang from frontman Evan Stephens Hall.

Their bandcamp site says they are a ” five-piece rock hard at work in the promotion of introspective partying!” Cardinal leads me to believe that they are about figuring out how to navigate being people having relationships to other people.

Recommendation: Buy It

Songs I have a Playlist for: Old Friends, Aphasia, New Friends

Clunkers I will thumbs down: There aren’t any terrible tracks on this album.

Grammy Winners (compared to my predictions)

Record of the Year: (ugh. This category has some really weak nominees this year)
* Really Love – D’Angelo And The Vanguard
* Uptown Funk – Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars
* Thinking Out Loud – Ed Sheeran
* Blank Space – Taylor Swift
* Can’t Feel My Face – The Weeknd

Should win: Really Love
Will win: Uptown Funk
Did win: Uptown Funk
Too bad. Uptown Funk was at the top of my worst list.

Album of the Year: (on the other hand, Album only has one lame nominee)
* Sound and Color – Alabama Shakes
* To Pimp a Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar
* Traveller – Chris Stapleton
* 1989 – Taylor Swift
* Beauty Behind The Madness – The Weeknd

Should win: Sound and Color
Will Win: To Pimp a Butterfly
Did Win: 1989

Song of the Year:
* Alright – Kendrick Duckworth, Mark Anthony Spears & Pharrell Williams, songwriters (Kendrick Lamar)
* Blank Space – Max Martin, Shellback & Taylor Swift, songwriters (Taylor Swift)
*Girl Crush – Hillary Lindsey, Lori McKenna & Liz Rose, songwriters (Little Big Town)
* See You Again –  Andrew Cedar, Justin Franks, Charles Puth & Cameron Thomaz, songwriters (Wiz Khalifa featuring Charlie Puth)
* Thinking Out Loud – Ed Sheeran & Amy Wadge, songwriters (Ed Sheeran)

Should Win: Girl Crush
Will Win: Thinking Out Loud
Did Win: Thinking Out Loud

Best New Artist:
* Courtney Barnett
* James Bay
* Sam Hunt
* Tori Kelly
* Meghan Trainor

Should Win: James Bay
Will Win: Courtney Barnett
Did Win: Meghan Trainor
Meh. Sam Hunt would have been less deserving, and so would Tori Kelly. But Title is not a great album overall and not as strong as either of the ones I pointed out.

Best Pop Solo Performance:
* Heartbeat Song – Kelly Clarkson
* Love Me Like You Do – Ellie Goulding
* Thinking Out Loud – Ed Sheeran
* Blank Space – Taylor Swift
* Can’t Feel My Face – The Weeknd

Should Win: Thinking Out Loud
Will Win: Blank Space
Did Win: Thinking Out Loud

Best Pop Duo/Group Performance:
* Ship To Wreck – Florence + The Machine
* Sugar – Maroon 5
* Uptown Funk – Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars
* Bad Blood – Taylor Swift ft. Kendrick Lamar
* See You Again – Wiz Khalifa Ft. Charlie Puth

Should Win: Ship To Wreck
Will Win: Uptown Funk
Did Win: Uptown Funk

 

Best Pop Vocal Album:
* Piece by Piece – Kelly Clarkson
* How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful – Florence + The Machine
* Uptown Special – Mark Ronson
* 1989 – Taylor Swift
* Before This World – James Taylor

Should Win: How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
Will Win: 1989
Did Win: 1989

Best Rock Performance:
* Don’t Wanna Fight – Alabama Shakes
* What Kind of Man – Florence + The Machine
* Something from Nothing – Foo Fighters
* Ex’s & Oh’s – Elle King
* Moaning Lisa Smile – Wolf Alice

Should Win: Don’t Wanna Fight
Will Win: Something From Nothing
Did Win: Don’t Wanna Fight

Best Rock Song:
* Don’t Wanna Fight – Alabama Shakes, songwriters (Alabama Shakes)
* Ex’s & Oh’s – Dave Bassett & Elle King, songwriters (Elle King
* Hold Back the River – Iain Archer & James Bay, songwriters (James Bay)
* Lydia – Richard Meyer, Ryan Meyer & Johnny Stevens, songwriters (Highly Suspect)
* What Kind of Man – John Hill, Tom Hull & Florence Welch, songwriters (Florence + The Machine)

Should Win: Don’t Wanna Fight
Will Win: Don’t Wanna Fight
Did Win: Don’t Wanna Fight

Best Rock Album:
* Chaos and The Calm – James Bay
* Kintsugi – Death Cab for Cutie
* Mister Asylum – Highly Suspect
* Drones – Muse
* 5: The Gray Chapter – Slipknot

Should Win: Drones
Will Win: Drones
Did Win: Drones

Best Alternative Music Album:
* Sound and Color – Alabama Shakes
* Vulnicura – Bjork
* The Waterfall – My Morning Jacket
* Currents – Tame Impala
* Star Wars – Wilco

Should Win: Currents
Will Win: Currents
Did Win: Sound and Color
I’m glad Alabama Shakes is being recognized. But they aren’t an alternative band.

Best Country Solo Performance:
* Burning House – Cam
* Traveller – Chris Stapleton
* Little Toy Guns – Carrie Underwood
* John Cougar, John Deere, and John 3:16- Keith Urban
* Chances Are – Lee Ann Womack

Should Win: Traveller
Will Win: Traveller
Did Win: Traveller

Best Country Album:
* Montevallo – Sam Hunt
* Pain Killer – Little Big Town
* The Blade – Ashley Monroe
* Pageant Material – Kasey Musgraves
* Traveller – Chris Stapleton

Should Win: Traveller
Will Win: Traveller
Did Win: Traveller

Best American Roots Performance:
* And Am I Born To Die – Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn
* Born To Play Guitar – Buddy Guy
* City of Our Lady – The Milk Carton Kids
* Julep – Punch Brothers
* See That My Grave is Kept Clean – Mavis Staples

Should Win: Any of them are worthy. This is the category so far that has been strongest top to bottom. But I’m leaning And Am I Born To Die
Will Win: See That My Grave is Kept Clean
Did Win: See That My Grave is Kept Clean
Mavis is always a favorite.

Best American Roots Song:
* All Night Long – Raul Malo, songwriter (The Mavericks)
* The Cost of Living –  Don Henley & Stan Lynch, songwriters (Don Henley & Merle Haggard)
* Julep -Chris Eldridge, Paul Kowert, Noam Pikelny, Chris Thile & Gabe Witcher, songwriters (Punch Brothers)
* The Travelling Kind – Cory Chisel, Rodney Crowell & Emmylou Harris, songwriters (Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell)
* 24 Frames – Jason Isbell, songwriter (Jason Isbell)

Should Win: The Travelling Kind
Will Win: The Cost of Living
Did Win: 24 Frames
Didn’t love the song. But the voters did, evidently. z

Best Americana Album:
* The Firewatcher’s Daughter – Brandi Carlisle
* The Travelling Kind – Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell
* Something More Than Free – Jason Isbell
* Mono – The Mavericks
* The Phosphorescent Blues – Punch Brothers

Should Win: The Travelling Kind
Will Win: Mono
Did Win: Something More Than Free
Not my choice, but doesn’t surprise me either.

Best Folk Album:
* Wood, Wire, & Words – Norman Blake
* Béla Fleck And Abigail Washburn – Béla Fleck And Abigail Washburn
* Tomorrow is My Turn – Rhiannon Giddens
* Servant of Love – Patty Griffin
* Didn’t He Ramble – Glen Hansard

Should Win: Servant of Love
Will Win: Béla Fleck And Abigail Washburn
Did Win: Béla Fleck And Abigail Washburn

Album Review: Synesthetica by Radiation City

Yeah, I know what you are thinking…who is Radiation City? That’s what I was thinking when I started listening to this album. I mean, I’d read a few reviews here and there, so I knew Synesthetica was their third studio album, the creation of which was done in fits and starts, and was threatend with the break-up of the bands and the breakup of core members singer/keyboardist Lizzie Ellison and guitarist Cameron Spies.
The album itself is a shortish 9 tracks and 39 minutes. It’s filled with lush songs reminiscent of a lot of late 60s/early 70s pop (think The Mamas and the Papas or the Beach Boys) mixed with the dream pop sensibilities of the 2010s, and a healthy dose of synth-pop sounds and latin beats.

While the record is a confident, well-realized pop album, it does suffer a bit from the modern malaise I’ve been seeing in records this year – an overall sense of sameness. There is a lot of similarity in the overall feel of each track on Synesthetica. From a fan standpoint, this might not be an actual issue, but it kind of reduced my desire to spend a lot of time invested in the album over time. I will pick out some favorite tracks, of course, but this album as a whole won’t be broken out as much.

Recommendation: Stream It

Song I have a Playlist for:Oil Show,Come and Go,Futures
Clunkers I will Thumbs Down: Didn’t really have one.