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 …

***

“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.

***

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…)

Isaac Hayes Sings “Walk On By”

Isaac Hayes Hot Buttered SoulListen to this track by Stax staffer, soul music innovator, and future South Park cast member Isaac Hayes. It’s “Walk On By”, Hayes’ expansive interpretation of the Bacharach-David pop hit that appears on 1969′s Hot Buttered Soul.

Hayes had been a stalwart songwriter at the Stax label, penning many hits for resident artists, most notably Sam & Dave, and their song “Soul Man”. But, the time between that song and the end of the decade was a wide one. A lot had changed. One important thing that had shifted was the standing relationship between Stax and Atlantic, the latter of which had distributed the former’s catalog from 1965. Atlantic had claimed Stax’s output when it in turn was bought by Warner in 1968 as per the contract signed by Stax founder Jim Stewart when the distribution deal was initially struck. The requirement to back-fill Stax’s offering with new work was suddenly a vital priority. It was the end of an era, and the beginning of a new one.

How did this turn of events help to establish Isaac Hayes as a soul music icon, a status that lasted over a forty-year career as a solo artist? (more…)

Basia Bulat Sings “Tall Tall Shadow”

Listen to this track by Torontonian multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter Basia Bulat. It’s “Tall Tall Shadow” , the title track to her 2013 release, her third record. Bulat is known as a folk songwriter, pulling from acoustic instrumentation and storytelling traditions in that vein, complete with a penchant for performing with an autoharp – none more folk! But, on this track, it’s her pop sensibilities that are on glorious display.

Basia Bulat

image: Amanda Ash

“Tall Tall Shadow” and the rest of the record that bears that title was produced by Mark Lawson, and Tim Kingsbury of Arcade Fire. This perhaps explains the subtle layerings found here that go beyond the more spare leanings of her first two records.

But despite the more involved production flourishes and varied musical ingredients that include a gospel feel, it’s Bulat’s vocal delivery that sells this song for me, going past the stylistic associations with a folk or even a folk-rock style and into a more singular territory that makes deciding on what style this song actually is more of an exercise in missing the point.

This more sophisticated approach when it comes to a new sound may have something to do with a “deep loss” that Bulat has mentioned in interviews surrounding the making of the record. The one I heard was on CBC radio, and conducted by Stephen Quinn the evening before Basia Bulat was scheduled to play at the Rio Theatre in Vancouver.

During that interview, she talked about starting plans for a third album, and then feeling as though she needed to scrap those plans and start again before entering the studio. She talked about continuing to be honest, but also being less reticent about laying her thoughts bare in the songs.

The imagery in this song seems to reflect something of this struggle, with the psychologically impactful contrast of light and shadow pretty central to the drama. That’s reflected in the video, but in the song’s lyrics too.

Now every hour, change of heart
You’re running away
But the shadow is your own, your own
One day when it finds you
Take it to heart

And the question is that this song presents is who the song’s narrator is addressing; a loved one, or the narrator herself? Maybe it’s both. Maybe it’s about humanity in general, embracing our dark sides, holding them in check against that which are the sources for light in our lives, with both forces defined by the other.

Learn more about Basia Bulat at her official site.

And here’s that interview by Stephen Quinn with Basia Bulat on CBC’s On The Coast that I mentioned earlier, which features her thoughts on the songwriting process, and on this song in particular.

Enjoy!

Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians Play “Madonna Of The Wasps”

Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians Queen ElvisListen to this track by formerly monikered Soft Boys and ’80s neo-psychedeliaists Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians. It’s “Madonna Of The Wasps”, the lead track on their 1989 record Queen Elvis. In addition to former Soft Boys members Hitchcock, plus bassist Andy Metcalfe, and drummer Morris Windsor, this song features the distinctive lines of another key player worth mentioning; R.E.M’s Peter Buck.

Buck, and his band, were formed by following the example of what Hitchcock had laid down with the Soft Boys, particularly their Underwater Moonlight album. And here, Hitchcock reinforces that influence on one of his most enduring pop songs. A recurring theme in his work seems to revolve around insects, from cans of bees as forming the title of the first Soft Boys record, to references to Antwomen later on, and even with a documentary about him called Sex, Food, Death … And Insects, with all of those other things referenced being recurring themes in his work as well.

Hitchcock’s particular parallel is to draw a comparison between our six-legged friends and a form of idealized womanhood. And no song does this better than this one. And it shows something else too beyond Hitchcock’s affinity for writing songs about our winged, stingie-tailed pals.

(more…)

Grandaddy Play “Miner At The Dial-A-View”

Listen to this track by spacey Modesto California indie rock conceptualists Grandaddy. It’s “Miner At The Dial-A-View”, the next-to-last track on what is considered by many to be their best record; The Sophtware Slump, released in 2000.

The Sophtware Slump GrandaddyThis song is a part of a loose concept about technology, connection, and the space between them. That was a pretty top of mind theme during the era out of which this song and the album off of which it comes was released. Sitting at the edge of a new century after a decade when the Internet and its influence on commerce, leisure, and communication was soaked into the cultural landscape, the connections with technology and with each other as a result had come out of the pages of science fiction, and into real life.

There was lots to explore when it came to confronting that, and in making sense out of the coming future. There was certainly no turning back from the ride that technology was taking us on. We’re still on that ride today.

In the light of this, what is the “Dial-A-View” as described in this song? And how does it connect with that greater theme of technology and connection? (more…)

XTC Play “Statue Of Liberty”

XTC White MusicListen to this track by Swindon new wave representatives and documented America-admirers,  XTC. It’s “Statue Of Liberty”, a single as taken from their 1978 debut album White Music.

The line-up to be heard here is the earliest incarnation of the band, with stalwarts Andy Partridge (vocals and guitar) and Colin Moulding (vocals and bass) being joined by drummer Terry Chambers and keyboardist Barry Andrews. Chambers would depart by the time the sessions for 1983′s Mummer were in process. Barry Andrews would leave soon after this record, and go on to form Shriekback.

Starting out, XTC was very much in the vein of their post-punk peers. And this was among their earliest singles, a tune about the iconic lady statue that adorns the New York City skyline, symbolizing the ideals of freedom and liberty for immigrants to a land of opportunity.

But, this song takes a bit more from that equation, with a more erotic attachment to the lady herself, so much so that the line about “sailing beneath your skirt” raised eyebrows at the BBC. But, I think this song says a lot more than just being provocative for its own sake. (more…)