It’s 2017, finally! We’ve kicked 2016 to the curb and good riddance.
Last year, we lost a Dame. We lost a Prince. We lost a Poet Laureate. We lost a myriad of others who we count as heroes. Somewhere in there, the world gained a Drumpf. Last year sucked, basically.
From here, we have quite a job to do to make sure that this year, 2017, doesn’t suck as much. It’s early yet. But I get the feeling it may be a tall order. This is particularly given our political climate as racist organizations re-brand themselves, slither into the mainstream, and drip poison into the ears of the public. We have to fight them. For that, we’ll need fuel for the trip.
Among other sources of spiritual nutrients, music is pretty high up on my personal list. If you’re here, you probably share my point of view on that. With that in mind, here is a selection of new music to kick off your new year. As is the norm, I invite you to take a deep dive, and tell me about your favourite tracks, and maybe even some ways you’re going to make sure that 2017 rocks instead of sucks. So, what are you waiting for? Step into my office …
Fall is a glorious time of year, with late September being an episode of the season when the land casts off the last vestiges of summer, at least in this particular hemisphere. It’s a melancholy and often bittersweet time where we reflect on the boundless joy of summertime memories we’ve made, or at least console ourselves that it will soon be a lot cooler so that we can actually get some sleep! It’s also a time I personally associate with new beginnings, even as things are busy coming to an end. Maybe you do, too. September is like the more pertinent marker for a new year in that respect.
With all that in mind, it’s time once again for a new playlist of new music on this year’s edition of Fall Into Tunes. So, as per tradition at this time of year by now, here is a selection of new music from across the spectrum for your review and enjoyment.
Read about and listen to the songs below, and tell me your favourite tracks in the comments section, Good People. Read more
Listen to this track by singer-songwriter-satirist with a highly developed social conscience matched by a sense of humour, Jill Sobule. It’s “When They Say We Want Our America Back (What The F#%k Do They Mean?)”, a single as taken from her involvement in the recent My Song Is My Weapon project, and its accompanying album Monster Protest Jams, Vol. 1. The album is a compilation of new protest songs that includes the work of artists like Tom Morello, Todd Rundgren, Amanda Palmer, Wayne Kramer, Wendy & Lisa, and many others.
The project, co-founded by Sobule, is based around the idea that the grand tradition of artistic protest in America needs an online forum. Through Pledge Music, we can help make that a reality particularly during a time when it is very difficult to tell satirical headlines from the actual news. More to the point, it’s a time when also-ran politicians and would-be world leaders seem to deal mostly in ambiguity and emotional button pushing instead of real data, specifically around the nebulous concept of the good ol’ days when America Was Great. No one can quite remember this era in exact detail, but many feel as though they need to replicate it in our modern age by electing repressive and out and out dangerous demagogues.
So, what is the role of the protest song in a socio-political environment such as ours? Does is have the same effect as it once did in the idealistic sixties or even in the jaded seventies? In this age of technological networks, maybe the answer is less about the song, and more about the listeners. Read more
Listen to this track by politically minded singer-songwriter with an eye for the ironic Bruce Cockburn. It’s “Call Me Rose”, the second song as taken from his 2011 album Small Source Of Comfort. Being known mainly for a song about reflecting on what would happen to sons of bitches should Cockburn ever procure a rocket launcher, he’s not generally known for writing songs with a sense of levity. Yet, even that is a misconception. This is the guy who covered Eric Idle’s “Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life” remember, arguably in reaction to his (unearned) reputation for being a bit too earnest. An opening line like “My name was Richard Nixon, only now I’m a girl” might be a bit jarring for many in any case.
On this song, Cockburn really hasn’t strayed from his main songwriting patch which has been about commenting on socio-economic inequity in the world. On this song though, there is a unique shift in perspective that has Cockburn voicing a character, rather than a usual narrative in his own voice. Instead of tales of Nicaraguan villagers making the best of things during a period of political upheaval, or ones about fleeing Guatemalan refugees at the mercy of machine gunners in helicopters (the sons of bitches referred to earlier), we meet a mother called Rose with two little kids living in the projects. The twist is that in a previous life, she had been the aforementioned former President of the United States. How’s that for socio-economic inequity?
But what is Cockburn trying to say here, other than “karma’s a bitch”? Well, I think it has to do with how we as a culture view the idea of power and how it relates to empathy. Read more
It’s summertime, summertime, and if you will, sum-sum-summertime. Perhaps weatherwise it’s been that for a while for you as it has been here on the (normally) Wet Coast of British Columbia. Around here it’s actually not been very wet at all due to a particularly dry spring. That’s meant that wildfire season has started early. I’m hoping this will not be the new normal that I suspect it is (thanks, climate change). That aside, and during a year that is turning out to be personally challenging on many levels, a reliable balm to life’s slings and arrows of outrageous fortune is always going to be new music. If you’re here with me on this page today, I can only assume that I am not alone in that conviction.
To effect a change for the better as 2016 rolls on, here is a new list of summer tune-age for your consideration. As always, consider it to be my personal mix-tape to you, which should always be considered as an act of love when rendered by a music fan. Some of these tunes are fit for top-down rolling down the road in the sunshine. Some will offer an interesting contrast to that. Either way, open your ears to the new sounds of summer below with this year’s edition of June Tunes Digest. Please proceed! Read more
Listen to this track by post-rocking, cinematically inclined Oxfordian quintet Radiohead. It’s “Daydreaming”, a single as taken from the band’s ninth studio album A Moon Shaped Pool, released digitally a little over one month ago. The new record will be available in CD and in vinyl form by June 17, which is coming up fast. A special edition with two more tracks is to follow in September.
The accompanying video, starring singer Thom Yorke walking through corridors and opening doors that lead into disconnected locations was directed by none other than P.T Anderson, known for films like Magnolia and Boogie Nights. The director had previously worked with Radiohead orchestral linchpin and multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood, whose soundtrack work is featured in several of Anderson’s films.
In a similar fashion, the video for this song was approached as a bona fide film project, submitted to selected theatres directly as 35mm prints. I think this song as it is portrayed in the film is very much in line with what Radiohead have explored previously, namely the nature of existence and where we seem to be going as a civilization. Read more
Listen to this track by golden anniversary-celebrating TV and pop music institution The Monkees. It’s “Me and Magdalena”, a cut from their latest album Good Times!. The record was released this past May, and features the work of several top shelf songwriters, some of whom helped the band to create their earliest hits (Goffin & King, Neil Diamond, Boyce & Hart, Harry Nilsson), and some who grew up with The Monkees and became songwriters themselves (Andy Partridge, Rivers Cuomo, Noel Gallagher, Paul Weller). Adam Schlesinger of Fountains Of Wayne produced the album and wrote or co-wrote a couple of tracks of his own. That’s quite a line-up!
This particular tune was written by Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, known for the unique brand of sombre and melancholic Americana on his own records. Where does that fit in with the happy-go-lucky Monkees? Well, that would be the contributions of Michael Nesmith [note: could this song be a sequel to “What Am I Doing Hanging Round?“], who helped to fashion that same moody and rootsy sound from his work with the band to his solo career in the 1970s with the First National Band. Micky Dolenz and Nesmith harmonize on this track in a way that I don’t think I’ve ever heard them do. It is a wonderful surprise just how well they sing together.
That’s the thing with The Monkees. Fifty years later, the band that many people thought weren’t even real had dimension and range to spare all along. That’s why this song works so well, and why it reminds us what this band has always been about since our childhoods. And therein lies the secret ingredient to this song, and to others on the album, too. Read more
Listen to this track by Iron & Wine lead Sam Beam and experimental pop singer-songwriter Jesca Hoop. It’s “Valley Clouds”, a track as taken off of their joint album Love Letter For Fire. That album was released just this past April, making many a music fan’s eyes widen by the possibilities initially, and by now how well Beam and Hoop’s voices intertwine to create something new out of a well-traveled approach to the making of pop music of a certain vintage and spirit.
The intent of the album was to take an established form, the duet, and to import a modern take on it as well as create a songwriting partnership out of that process. This album was the result, with this song being a lead single to establish its tone, which is a sort of quietly intense atmosphere of a campfire singalong.
As one might expect, this record of duets centers around the subject of love. But, what it also explores something that this established form has always intended, and that is how writing songs for two voices expands thematic possibilities, creates tension, and adds a sophisticated emotional dynamic that can only exist when two points of view are expressed in the same song.
Listen to this track by three-cornered supergroup with the accountancy firm-style name, case/lang/veirs. It’s “Atomic Number”, the first single from the upcoming self-titled album by three magnificantly talented singers and songwriters Neko Case, k.d lang, and Laura Veirs. The album is due out on June 17 from Anti-Records.
The formation of this band came initially from Lang as she sought to challenge herself within a band format. She contacted both Neko Case and Laura Veirs, both of whom reflexively said “yes!” at the prospect of working with her. Wouldn’t you? Well, maybe you wouldn’t given the calibre of talent that Lang represents by herself. She’s done duets with Roy Orbison and Tony Bennett, and held her own and then some. But, Neko Case is also a titan in the vocal department too, not to mention her capacity as a songwriter both as a solo artist and with The New Pornographers. Laura Veirs is the lesser known of the three, arguably. But, she’s been able to have a very maneuverable career, following her muse down various avenues just the same with results that make her one of the best in her field.
The question with a collaborative project like this is always the same, and that is this. Will the music survive the egos involved? After all, the word “supergroup” has been used, and rightly so. Luckily, it seems like this issue wasn’t exactly lost on the three principles. And the proof is in the pudding. So, what kind of dish are we looking at, exactly? Read more
Listen to this track by Los Angeles avant-pop and art rock paragon Julia Holter. It’s “Silhouette”, a track featured on her fourth full length record, Have You In My Wilderness.
Crafted in the same spirit as contemporaries Imogen Heap and Joanna Newsome, and certainly in the grand tradition of Laurie Anderson and Kate Bush, Holter’s approach is a balance between spare melodic lines and sweeping aural vistas. There is something decidedly European in this song, and in much of her other music as well, with that aforementioned balance being the common denominator. Maybe it’s because the narratives that the music suggests sound too ancient in their origins to be anything other than companions to folk tales from a much older culture.
In this case, the song is based on a story about two sisters awaiting a lover, whom they both unwittingly share, to return to each them. In this sense, “Silhouette” seems to have something to say about relationships that applies to mythical patterns as much as it does to modern times, catching us in the traps that love can often set for us. Read more