music

Alicia Keys Sings “Fallin’”

Alicia keys fallin singleListen to this track by neo-soul pianist, singer, songwriter, and R&B ingenue Alicia Keys. It’s “Fallin’”, the first single as taken from her debut record Songs In A Minor, a record that succeeded in making her the talk of the town when it was released in 2001. Part of that buzz was down to it’s classic feel, plugging into the spirit of classic soul music.

Further to that connection to music of past eras, the themes would be familiar too;  a troubled relationship that cannot be denied, despite the pain that is associated equally with the pleasure it brings. This is certainly a common theme in pop music, and R&B music from a woman’s point of view in particular, from Billie Holiday’s take on “Ain’t Nobody’s Business”, to Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved A Man The Way I love You”, to Keys’ contemporary Macy Gray, with her song “I Try” by the end of the 1990s.

How does that tradition play out here? (more…)

General Public Play “Tenderness”

General Public TendernessListen to this track by dual-frontman outfit and pop-music-with-a-head-for-wordplay purveyors General Public. It’s “Tenderness”, their biggest hit as taken from the debut record in 1984, All The Rage. The song would make them more of a chart draw in North American showings than in their native UK, with top forty play and heavy video rotation too.

General Public was something of a Two Tone and British second wave ska survivor band, featuring members of The Beat  and The Specials. This new band also included members of Dexy’s Midnight Runners and even, briefly, Mick Jones of the Clash before the record was released. The two primaries would be Ranking Roger and Dave Wakeling who had been the lead vocalists for the aforementioned Beat, a band that had made a lot of headway in North America through college radio before fragmenting by 1983.

This song was the second single from their debut album, with the self-referential “General Public” being the first. And it made a cultural impact in a hurry, being a part of soundtrack albums (Weird Science), and on MTV  that got the song heard by new audiences.

And speaking of audiences, what did the success of this song mean where the cultural landscape in North America was concerned? (more…)

Groove Armada Play “At The River”

Groove_Armada At the RiverListen to this track by London pop musical era cross-polinator duo Groove Armada. It’s “At The River”, a single from 1997 that was re-released two years later as a part of their Vertigo album.

The album was released during a period when chillout and downtempo beats were becoming equally celebrated in clubs and on the radio as pop songs in Britain. As such, both contexts and audiences are served here, with pop hooks and beats intertwining to make one of the most appealing confections of a genre that marked the times before the 20th century became the early 21st.

The central hook here comes from tin pan alley pop singer Patti Page’s “Old Cape Cod”, a single from 1957 that came in turn out of a poem as written by one Claire Rothrock who’d fallen in love with the titular destination. The song was a hit, salty air and quaint little villages and all, and Patti Page would be celebrated by the region of Cape Cod for many years after for being a cultural ambassador because of her hit with this earlier pop single.

But, what’s it doing being referenced on a late-20th century dance record made in rainy London? (more…)

Buckingham Nicks Play “Frozen Love”

Buckingham NicksListen to this track by future Fleetwood Mac stalwarts and Californian folk duo Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, AKA Buckingham Nicks. It’s “Frozen Love”, the closing track to their 1973 pre-Mac record called, appropriately Buckingham Nicks. It would be their sole (to date!) album together as a duo.

The record was created when the two young musicians were championed by producer and engineer Keith Olson, in turn helped by sessioner Waddy Wachtel who would be a frequent collaborator with Stevie Nicks in her solo career years later. Before they were signed as a duo, Buckingham and Nicks had both been a part of a rock band, Fritz, that had served as an opening act for some of the biggest acts of the late-60s, including Big Brother & The Holding Company, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and Jefferson Airplane. Before that, the two had known each other in high school, and had informally collaborated since they were teens.

When Fritz broke up, the two splintered into a duo, and eventually were signed to Polydor, whereupon they’d recorded this debut album that established both musicians as unique and supremely gifted singer-songwriters. But, the record didn’t sell, thanks to the inattention of Polydor at the time.

Showbiz strikes again!

But, this track in particular would help to lead the two out of the pop music briar patch. (more…)

Franz Ferdinand Play “Jacqueline”

Listen to this track by groove-oriented post-post-punk indie-rock outfit from Glasgow, Franz Ferdinand. It’s “Jacqueline” the opening track to their 2004 Mercury Prize-winning debut record cleverly entitled Franz Ferdinand.

Franz Ferdinand live 2004

image: celticblade

The band took their sound from various sources, particularly from the late-70s and early 80s new wave and disco, with a simple goal in mind; to make records girls can dance to. It’s a good goal when you’re looking to make pop music, sell records, and to bring things back home where pop music that speaks to an audience is concerned.

At the time, the band was a part of a retro movement that drew from this same era, perhaps with similar goals. But, what separated Franz Ferdinand from the crowd was this; they had the songs.

Beyond that, they had something else, too. (more…)

Kirsty MacColl Sings “A New England”

Kirsty MacColl A New EnglandListen to this track by self-motivated pop song interpreter and songwriter Kirsty MacColl. It’s “A New England”, her 1984 single of Billy Bragg’s original song that would get her to the top ten in Britain.

By the time this single was recorded, MacColl was a latter-day signee to Stiff records. While there, she’d record a few singles. But,  it would be this one that would make the most impact during her tenure there, with a tale of a young person suddenly confronting the end of a relationship, corresponding with the end of innocence, too. It also talks about love and its complexities, and its power to create as much disappointment as it does to create joy.

Besides filling out the song in an arrangement full of jangly guitars and spacious production, it’s MacColl’s ability to carry the material off which separated it from it’s original context, and created a new one in its place. And the song’s author would help with that process. (more…)

The Raspberries Play “Go All The Way”

The RaspberriesListen to this track by British Invasion enthusiasts and power pop founding fathers from Cleveland Ohio, The Raspberries. It’s “Go All The Way”, their top five hit single also featured on their 1972 debut record Raspberries.

The Raspberries were a pretty singular group, even if you can tell they’re wearing their influences on their sleeve. By 1972, those very bands who had furthered the cause of guitar-based pop music you hear in this song had gone on to other projects. Art rock, rock operas, confessional singer-songwriter albums were common artistic avenues by the early ’70s while the four bobbing heads and catchy choruses model of the ’60s was left behind. Rock music as a form had expanded beyond that. Some would say it had grown up.

So, how did the Raspberries get their top five hit, given that the musical traditions they’re drawing from had been largely left in the past? (more…)

Ronny Jordan Plays “So What”

Ronny Jordan The AntidoteListen to this track by acid jazz six-string slinger Ronny Jordan. It’s “So What”, a single as taken from his 1992 record The Antidote. The album was a part of a movement to link post-bop jazz with early ’90s hip hop and R&B of which Ronny Jordan was a major player, based in Britain but making impact in North America too.

This piece is well established in jazz history, originally the centerpiece and lead track to 1959′s Kind of Blue album by Miles Davis, a game-changing release that led jazz into a new era in the 1960s. Jordan wasn’t the first guitarist to cover the song. Grant Green and George Benson would both release versions of the song, two guitarists that Jordan would count among his musical forebears. But, Jordan’s innovation was in bringing it into a new milieu outside of jazz that included hip hop beats and a distinctive R&B feel.

Jazz has always been treated as a sacred trust, by critics and by musicians too. The attempts to marry other music to how jazz is defined has had a mixed history, celebrated by many, and condemned by others. The conflict around it has mostly been about preserving a tradition. But, the attempts to push it in new directions had to do with bringing it new life, in turn by making it culturally available to new audiences.

How is that played out here? (more…)

Spring For Tunes 2014

Spring is here.

Weather is getting balmier, days are getting longer, and around here cherry blossoms are on everyone’s mind, and on most people’s driveways. This is the season of renewal, of new beginnings. So, maybe it’s time to inject some new tunes into our lives in celebration of a season.

Spring faeries

image: sofi01

With that in mind, here is a selection of musical goodness from many locales and across the pop music spectrum for your consideration. May the sounds you find here be like April showers on the cold stony ground of a winter of discontent – and we had a cold one, didn’t we? As the buds on the trees begin to manifest, get these tunes into your brain through the buds of the ear variety.

Here …

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“Young and Lazy” by The  Matinee

Kicking things off is a Tom Petty-esque tune as produced by Hot Hot Heat’s Steve Bays (the rest of the record was produced by Los Lobos member and legendary sessioner Steve Berlin!), delivered by Vancouver roots and classic rock up-and-comers The Matinee.  The song is the opening track as taken from the band’s debut record, We Swore We’d See the Sunrise which you can buy on iTunes. If you’re looking to ride into the sun of a new season, this is a stellar place to start.

“Friends” by Fast Romantics

Fans of the Super Furries take note with this track from Calgary’s Fast Romantics, specializing in a similar art-rock via post punk pop architecture. The song is taken from their recent record Afterlife Blues, their second. For more, check out the official video to their single “Funeral Song“.

“Dreamtrain” by Lily Virginia

Like a moment in the day when you feel the first drops of spring rain, Lily Virginia’s “Dreamtrain” provides a melancholic backdrop  for a new season. This song is gauzy, atmospheric, and gossamer-delicate, but with a quiet strength that makes it a heartfelt reflection on lost love. For more information, check out this interactive page that allows you to delve even further into this tune, and what inspired it.

“Last Time You’ll Say Goodbye” by Mortimer Nova

Close-harmonies and expansive arrangement help to characterize this tune by Tampa Florida’s Mortimer Nova, led by head writer and guitarist Michael Vilches. The song is taken from their album Terminal, taking in an orchestral -folk approach that seems to evoke an idealized era of lushly realized pop music.

“Under The Wire” by Running Red Lights

If you prefer your pop by way of Buckingham-Nicks, this tune by Toronto’s Running Red Lights is your springtime excursion to a classic period of rock radio that sings in the 21st century. This song appeared as a sample two-fer, and as a forerunner to their full-length record There’s A Bluebird In My Heart. You can buy the record at iTunes.  

“Dream of Delia” by The Citradels

If three-to-four minute pop feels somewhat limiting, how about some neo-psychedelic drone rock for a change of pace? That’s where Melbourne Australia’s The Citradels have carved out a niche, marrying fuzzy psych with a variety of textures that stretch out a bit more, with eerie atmospheres and hypnotic soundscapes. This track is taken from their most recent record, Droned and Rethroned.

“That’s The Way I Wanna Do It” by The Pinecones

What would happen if you took power pop, added some strings, and some Brill Building era Carole King-like melodic instincts? Well, imagine no further with Toronto’s The Pinecones. This song is taken from the band’s succinctly named full-length, Ooh!

“Is This Love” by Life Leone

Life Leone delivers the dry-and-crunchy post punk hooks  you crave that culminates in a distinctive California desert-rock sound that he’s crafted into his own musical signature. This song is taken from the new release Comes Crashing In. You can learn more about Life Leone and his music here 

“Honest Living” by Supastition

Rap has a history in social commentary, with personal stories mirroring the stories of whole communities. That tradition lives and breathes on this track by Greenville, North Carolina-based Supastition. This track beams with throwback textures of classic R&B, infused with candour, controlled rage, and ultimate optimism as taken from the Honest Living EP.

“Numbers” by Grand Splendid

Montreal’s Grand Splendid make multi-textural guitar pop that transcends eras, mounted on an anthemic scale yet without the self-aggrandizing bombast. This is the title track from their self-produced mini-album Numbers, a sonic backdrop for those spring days where the sun can be seen as peering through a bank of clouds, on the verge of breaking out.

“ef-fort” by In Snow

For sounds that suggest a narrative but without the lyrics, Birmingham Alabama’s In Snow provide it with interest. This track is taken from their EP of the same name, dealing in atmosphere, tension and release, and subtle instrumental interplay. Fans of Mogwai in particular should press “play” immediately.

“And Still We Move” by Crissi Cochrane

For a feel of classic soul melded with a 21st century indie sensibility, Windsor Ontario-based and Halifax Nova Scotia-born Crissi Cochrane delivers a humid, horn-laden treasure chest of sound. This track is the single as taken from her recently released album Little Sway, a release driven by the beating heart of Detroit soul delivered with subtlety and laid back charm sung in her own voice.

“Rotation” by Ummagma

Electronic soundscapes and dream pop textures are what characterizes the music of Canadian-Ukrainian duo Ummagma. This is a single, a double A-side with another song of theirs – “Live and Let Die” (not the song you’re thinking of!).  In addition to their recorded output, the band won the Alternative Eurovision in 2013. But, maybe the biggest feather in their cap is working with Robin Guthrie of Cocteau Twins, who re-mixed a track, which is due soon.

“Ghost of June” by Dylan Starrs

Literally hooking into a dynasty of country music tradition with this song in particular, Texas native and L.A-based singer-songwriter Dylan Starrs plays to that tradition, and yet with a distinctive voice of his own. This song comes from his full-length record The Swill To The Swell.

“The Verge” by Juleah

Neo-psychedelic excursions are the speciality of Austrian musician Julia Hummer AKA Juleah. This is the opening track to a 5-track EP Entangled and Entwined, mixing guitars, with electronics, dreampop, and the blues.  For you visually-oriented music fans, here’s the video for the song.

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So, there they are; tunes for spring, a soundtrack to the green shoots and brightly-headed flowers bursting up toward a warming sun.

What do you think? What are your favourite tracks? What’s the weather like in your neck of the woods?

Tell me all about it! And happy spring!

Enjoy!

Depeche Mode Play “Personal Jesus”

Depeche_Mode ViolatorListen to this track by synth-pop movers and dark-dance auteurs Depeche Mode. It’s “Personal Jesus”, their return to the top 40 US charting single as taken from 1989′s Violator.

It would be a song that would secure their continued success in North America, and establish them as a key alternative dance pop act that had evolved from their original incarnation of fresh-faced Kraftwerkian synthesists, under the creative guidance of co-founder and original member Vince Clarke. By the end of the 1980s, head writer Martin Gore had successfully steered the band’s material into the darker corners of human experience. This song would be one of the best examples of the establishment of their work as having much darker, psychologically complex themes compared to when they first started out.

For instance, there is a distinct human dynamic  outlined in this song that most bands were not exploring in the mainstream; the willingness to be subsumed by another. But, is this just about sexual roleplay tied up in religious imagery as it is often assumed? Or, are there implications that go beyond that? (more…)