Jim White Sings “Static On The Radio” Feat. Aimee Mann

Drill_a_Hole_in_That_Substrate_and_Tell_Me_What_You_SeeListen to this track by musical pilgrim and singer-songwriter Jim White, along with his guest in fellow pop scribe Aimee Mann. It’s “Static On The Radio”, a cut as taken from White’s 2004 record, Drill A Hole In That Substrate And Tell Me What You See.

Before he became a professional songwriter, Jim White was known by his birth name: Michael Davis Pratt. He had had a storied career in non-musical fields such as film school student, pro-surfer, preacher (he’d been in the Pentecostal church as a teen), and cabbie. He learned his instrument and his craft while laid up with a broken leg, watching game shows, and learning chord shapes. All the while, his gift for narrative was waiting to blossom, which eventually it certainly did in his songs, and in his prose fiction, too.

I think that mixture of writing disciplines on White’s part is what primarily feeds this song, which a series of vignettes that are decidedly nocturnal in nature and in execution. It’s almost a literal dark night of the soul kind of song. From where does it spring, and what does it say about White’s own experience, and maybe ours, too? Read more

José Gonzáles Sings “Stay Alive”

Jose Gonzales Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Listen to this track by Gothenburg Sweden singer-songwriter and sublime soundtrack contributor José Gonzáles. It’s “Stay Alive” a song as featured in the 2013 film based on James Thurber’s story The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty. The song appears on the soundtrack album as well, along with two other Gonzáles contributions.

At points, the film is set in Greenland, Iceland, and the Lower Himalayas as its main character, who is prone to daydreaming, lives out a fantasy in real life as he chases a photojournalist for a missing negative of an image meant to be the cover for the last issue of Life magazine. See the film, it’s good. But, for our purposes here, Gonzáles’ song sets a scene of desolate beauty, seeming to evoke the big questions of life; identity, meaning, and the sense of purpose that comes out of both of those.

Even without a cinematic narrative to frame it, the song itself evokes those very things on its own. Read more

Vashti Bunyan Sings “Wayward”

Lookaftering Vashti BunyanListen to this track by returning den mother of wispy, ethereal English folk music Vashti Bunyan. It’s “Wayward”, one of the many jewels featured on her 2005 album Lookaftering, her second full-length album in a career that at that point stretched to forty years, starting with her years working with Andrew Loog Oldham in the mid-60s as a pop singles artist. Her first album, Just Another Diamond Day was released in 1970, a work that moved away  from pop and embraced a distinctively English folk style instead.

But, despite its delicate lyricism, ecstatic pastoral textures, and appealingly hazy melodicism, that first album was a commercial flop. Tired of the merciless rigours of the music business and of trying to find an audience that understood what she was trying to do, Bunyan gave it up to concentrate on other things, specifically in raising a family. She repaired to a farm in Ireland to live the rural life that is reflected in her songs. That was thirty-five years before she’d return as a recording artist with a new album.

What was it that brought her back? The answer is simply that her first album paid her back for her efforts by taking on a life of its own long after she’d given it up for dead.

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Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros Sing “Home”

upfrombelowListen to this song by Californian multi-membered collective Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros. It’s their song from 2009’s Up From Below album, “Home”, sort of a Johnny Cash/June Carter duet, as interpreted through an orchestral pop lens, and packed full of charm.

The band was conceived by principal songwriter Alex Ebert, who in addition to having been in power pop band Ima Robot, also imagined the figure of Edward Sharpe when he embarked on a solo career. The idea for the character was centered around Sharpe as a being sent to earth to save humanity, but caught blindside by love on the way.

The character was a central figure in a novel Ebert was working on, and eventually spilled over into this new musical project.  So, shades of Ziggy Stardust, The Man Who Fell To Earth, and the aforementioned Johnny Cash, then. Perhaps a dash of Polyphonic Spree can be thrown in there, too, just because the band includes eleven members, and sometimes more with supplementary players.

One such member is guitarist and vocalist Jade Castrinos, the other half of the duet here, which gives the song a vintage feel of a country song that features the compelling push-pull of two voices, including some  spoken-word dialogue that really creates an immediate chemistry.

Also, this song is just plain sweet, a perfect breath of fresh air with a tone of innocence that really makes it stand out. It’s  a straight up, old-fashioned love song in an era when it seems to be uncool to tell someone how much you love them in a pop song without adding a layer of something in between – loving someone “like a love song”, for instance.

The song itself has made an impact internationally, and on the Billboard alternative charts.  The band has performed it, and other songs off of the debut at festivals all over the world. It’s been heard on TV shows from Gossip Girl, to Ugly Betty, to Community.

The follow up to Up From Below is expected this year.

For more information about Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, and listen to more of their music, check out the Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros Facebook page.


Interview with Raleigh, Who Perform “Tunnel Vision”

Photo: Scott Furkay

Listen to this track by art-rock-meets-chamber-pop trio from Calgary Alberta, Raleigh. It’s the opening track to their debut album New Times in Black and White; “Tunnel Vision”, an ambitious tune built up centered around the interlocked voices of Clea Anaïs (also on cello and piano) and Brock Geiger (guitar). Drummer Matt Doherty supports the song, and others on the record with dextrous, melodic fills.

The three musicians have created an amalgam of various strains of pop music, with an atmosphere that explores the same sumptuous indie-folk musical continent as Sufjan Stevens mapped on Illinoise. There is temptation to bury them in comparisons to other bands still, ranging from Stars, to Iron & Wine, to Radiohead.

Yet with the vocal chemistry between Anaïs and Geiger, and with the warm and restrained orchestral feel of cello against indie guitar, against jazz-inflected drumming, the band establish their own unique sonic landscape. They leave enough space for the voices to work their magic with melodies that urge the listener on, while also shifting in interesting directions instrumentally and rhythmically at the same time.

I talked to Clea and Brock about finding each other (literally!), about chemistry, and about the one-time event of creating a debut album.

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