In this first installment of Sound Exposure, I’ll be cycling through a few singles and album previews that are available right now. And since my musical wanderings are as random as they are whimsical, this list does not adhere to any one particular genre.
10. Jimi Hendrix
“Way down in the background I see frustrated souls and cities burning, and all across the water baby, I see weather’s brought the stink of death, and up in the clouds I can imagine UFOs chuckling to themselves, laughing, heh, they saying ‘those people so uptight, there sure do know how to make a mess’…”
I would like to think the song lyrics to “Somewhere” are about Hendrix gazing down upon us from the great and mysterious Purple Haze, because it turns out there’s a posthumous Hendrix album set for March 5th. The album is titled “People, Hell and Angels.” It contains 11 other unreleased songs.
“New Hendrix? You bet. “Somewhere” was recorded in 1968 with Buddy Miles on drums and Stephen Stills on bass, right around the same time the legendary guitarist was working on First Rays of the New Rising Sun. Expect just about everything you have come to know and love from Hendrix on this track, as psychedelic blues run rampant behind Jimi’s streaming narrative.”
9. David Bowie
“Where are we now, where are we now, the moment you know, you know, you know…”
This “freaky old bastard” turned 66 last week. As a gift to the world Bowie has announced the release of a new album “Next Day,” “Where Are We Now,” a slightly bittersweet ode to life, is the first single. Expect the full album around March 12th. For those keeping track: this is his 30th studio album.
8. Rachel Zeffira
I caught via Under The Radar that Rachel Zeffira did a cover of My Bloody Valentine’s “To Here Knows When” and it was lovely. I was smitten as kitten. The delicate piano arrangement is a beautiful choice for the melody as it gives the song an enchanting quality. And elsewhere in the track orchestral-style strings play up Zeffira’s ethereal vocals. There’s also some sweet undercurrent going on in the background as a cello-like instrumental slides up and down the musical scale. Over all, it gives the song a kind of seesaw effect, which is perfect since it pretty much echoes the sentiment of the lyrical content. Other notes? This track almost made me forget that My Bloody Valentine has been excruciatingly slow to release their forever-in-production-album that’s taken over a decade to make. And it is still not out. There’s not even a name for it or a release date. But hey, the mastering is finally done.
Zeffira’s cover also seems like it’s a wise marketing choice as her single is entitled “Here On In.” One can find it and other new songs on her solo album “The Deserters.” The North American release is set for, yep, you guessed it, March. The 12th to be exact.
According to the VEVO’s bio: “Rachel Zeffira is a Canadian soprano, composer, and multi-instrumentalist currently based in London, England. She is also one half of the duo Cat’s Eyes, the other being Faris Badwan of the band, The Horrors…Guesting on the album were members of the London-based psych-rock band TOY and Melissa Rigby from S.C.U.M.”
I’m willing to wager that “The Deserters” will be full of femme fatale jilted-lady-love 60s spy pop. If you’re familiar with Portishead’s “Glory Box,” “Sour Times,” or just about anything off “Dummy,” Goldfrapp’s “Pilots” from “Felt Mountain,” or Ladytron’s “White Elephant” on “Gravity the Seducer,” then you know exactly what I mean.
There’s also another single that has been floating around for the better part of 3 months too. Unlike “Here On In,” however, “The Deserters” is more piano driven and has a hazy warmth to it. It kind of makes me curious as to how the rest of the album sounds.
Here’s a single from Low’s “The Invisible Way.” The album is out March 19 on Sub Pop Records. The single is available for free download via the band’s website chairkickers.com.
“Just Make It Stop,” contains well-crafted harmonies, which is a stylistic hallmark that Low has always had going for them. Mimi Parker’s voice also kind of reminds me of Carly Simon. Plus she’s the band’s drummer, more on why that’s important later. Anyway, Low has always had a certain kind of slowness in their sound. Truth be told, I do like their style. Still it is hard for me wake-up and say, “Hey, you know what I really want to listen today? Slow-core rock, now gimme, gimme!”
I have to be in a deeply contemplative mood to enjoy this kind of music, and I’m more a “atmospheric fuzzy flights of fancy,” often phantasmagorical listener, so think: Flying Lotus or anything Dream Pop, so I am at best a casual listener of Low. It’s like listening to Sun Kil Moon or Mount Eerie, you really have to be all up in their head space to enjoy any amount of extended play time.
But, I really like the direction this band is taking with their music if “Just Make It Stop” is any indication of where they are headed. It seems way more upbeat instrumentally than what I can remember of their previous material. It’s like a faster-paced “Like a Forest,” with less dire piano arrangements like those found on songs such as “Clarence White.” Overall, the instrumentals, primarily the highhats and snare drum, remind me of riding a train somewhere, which when paired with a chorus line that goes “…we could get where we’re going, if I could just make it stop, if I could just make it stop, I could tell the whole world, to get out of the way, if I could just make it stop, if I could just make it stop from breaking my heart…” I mean, it makes a certain kind of artistic sense. You can’t really stop time or what everyone else around you is doing, and so the world, were it a train, keeps barreling down the tracks. The message I get from the song is that is about wanting change, but that change is difficult to enact when the tragedy and heartache of others weighs on you emotionally. Hopefully there will be harmonious, uplifting songs on “Invisible Way” too.
Other notes? “The Invisible Way” was produced by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, engineered by Tom Schick and recorded in Wilco’s studio The Loft in Chicago, IL, this past fall.
“There’s a hunger in the air, a lemon swollen in the trees, when shadows fall across the moon, I strain my ears towards the breeze…”
I’m not even going to lie. Stornoway’s new single is my first introduction to the band. I heard “Knock Me On The Head” last week and found myself drifting back to it again and again. My first impression was that I really enjoyed the bass line and organ playing as it keeps the song jaunty despite the ominous oriental-infused intro. The lyrics are also very poetic. The lines about having an albatross hung around one’s neck references an old phrase spun from a Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem “The Rime of Ancient Mariner.” Essentially, this song is about a guy paying for past mistakes with a former lover. What makes me think this, only these lyrics: “a woman dangles from a bridge on a thread of silver mercury…somewhere in between the lines I drifted into fantasy, but you’re the only open book, a portal to a star crossed sea…”
According to 4D:
“As is true of classic songwriting partnerships, lyricist Brian Briggs’ eloquence coupled with his crystalline voice unites with Jon Ouin’s stunning arrangements to form a musical mirror. Tales From Terra Firma reflects powerful life experiences, the great outdoors and the passing of time, which is a major theme of the album. Indeed, the songs were mostly written in a camper van in land-locked Oxford but on listening, the yearning for adventure and the freedom of the coast and wild places is palpable. And with that, Stornoway have self-produced a record that marks a new sophistication in compositional and, in particular, lyrical qualities, while still retaining the charm of their debut that so many fell in love with.”
“Tales from Terra Firma” releases on March 19th in North America. I may also go look up their past material now.
“By tomorrow we’ll be swimming with the fishes, leave our troubles in the sun…”
Who is this Daughter? Don’t worry if you’ve not heard of them yet. These Brits release their first full-length album “If You Leave” in North America via Glassnote Records on April 30th. British peeps get it earlier thru 4AD in March. Their song “Tomorrow” is atmospheric and utilizes percussive elements that ebb and flow through fuzzy guitars. But it’s not too heavy on distortion or reverb, so the lyrics are easily distinguishable. “Tomorrow” also happens to be very poetic “when the sun comes up, we’ll be nothing but dust, just the outlines of our hands, by tomorrow we’ll be lost amongst of leaves in a wind that shows the skeleton of trees…”
Overall their sound fits into the category of “Sonic Elements I Love.” They have another single “Smother” that is making the rounds, and while I don’t care for its lyrics, I do appreciate the musicianship as those very atmospheric qualities that I admire are used to literally smother parts of the song in a cloud of sound.
Meanwhile The Wild Honey Pie is offering “Love” and “Tomorrow” for free download. So got and got. Note: “Love” is from their EP “The Wild Youth.” It has a bit of a dance vibe towards the end even though its sadness is palpable right down to the finish. It makes Alanis Morissette’s 90s ode to bitter breakups “You Oughta Know” seem like a guileless, seething passive-aggressive song by comparison. (OK, all these years later I have to admit I still dig Flea’s bass line.) And you should know, Canadian connection wise, that Youth was picked by iTunes Canada as their Singer/ Songwriter ‘Song Of The Year’ for 2012.
“…ah, if you believe in yourself, you can free yourself…”
I heard Foxygen this past December. I liked what I heard so much, I’m pretty sure I’m going to go find their EP and get it soon. At any rate, their single “Shuggie” is infectious! NPR Music listed “Shuggie” in their list, “Heavy Rotation: 5 Songs Public Radio Can’t Stop Playing.” Couple this catchy song with a bizarre music video featuring an enigmatic black box filled with possibly the bestest chocolate syrup in the world, and you have something that sticks.
3. Youth Lagoon
“…you’ll never die, you’ll never die, you’ll die…”
I remember my first introduction to Youth Lagoon when I caught the video for “Montana” last year. All said, I liked the majority of what I heard on “The Year of Hibernation.” If I had to describe that album’s sound very briefly, I’d say its full of echo-drenched raindrops. Or if you want to imagine that you’re a bear laying in a cave somewhere, then this is the kind of sound scape you’d hear as icicles melt. Enter Youth Lagoon’s new single “Dropla.” Now imagine the snow has melted, that Spring showers have arrived, and now you’re out there foraging berries. Suddenly, somewhere in the journey from hibernation to wakefulness, you’ve noticed everything is connected yet it is all very echo-drenched. Yep. That.
“Wondrous Bughouse” is out via Fat Possum records on March 5th.
2. Toro Y Moi
Should you need a Chillwave infusion stat, have no fear the new Toro Y Moi is just about here. These bass lines make my eardrums dance like they at the club and its time to sex someone up.
“Anything in Return” is out on January 22nd. Hear it streaming on Pitchfork Advance.
Another album I will likely review soon is Widowspeak’s “Almanac.” I won’t say much other than I could see myself eventually fan-girling for them the same way I do now for Beach House. Which really means I would drive to Tulsa or Dallas, maybe even Austin to see them. Although not being a Midwesterner or Southerner, I don’t really have affection for the Big D. And I don’t like being trapped in a car for more than a couple of hours unless I’m going on a nice long vacation. Even so, I really enjoyed “Almanac.” It’s like dream pop goes Fleetwood Mac. And Molly Hamilton’s vocals are a hazy more honeyed version of Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval or what you hear from Marissa Nadler on “Mexican Summer.”
Catch them on NPR Music First Listen. “Almanac” is also out on January 22nd.