The Shins, “Taste of Honey”
Did you know James Mercer can sing? I knew his voice could swoop, chime, and yelp but I didn’t know he could croon. Amazingly delicate, precise singing here. Production and arrangement by Danger Mouse. Treat yourself to the sweet, sad noir treatment of this much-covered melody.
Iron And Wine, “Call It Dreaming”
Like The Shins, I first encountered Iron And Wine through “Garden State”. It’s funny, I didn’t see that when I sequenced them next to each other. But they are irrevocably connected for me that way. But I haven’t followed Iron And Wine closely, only checking in every other album. I’m glad to return again and find that acoustic richness I loved layered with the full band sound he’s polished on subsequent albums.
Ryan Kinder, “Still Believe in Crazy Love”
I can’t wait for this Nashville singer’s first full length. He’s got a modern country sound with a penchant for dramatic choruses Adele would envy. I might also love this song because the first 30 seconds seem to share the same echoey drums, picked electric guitar, and overall vibe as Beyoncé’s “1+1”.
Brad Paisley, “Last Time for Everything”
It’s a cheap shot, Brad. Pulling me in with a guitar lead ripped from The Police. Standard country proceedings from there, distinguished by silvery lead guitar filagrees. I’m sure the summer tour crowds loved this!
Midland, “Electric Rodeo”
This breezy track spins under a bright disco ball chorus. Imagine if The Eagles brightened up and played a swinging 70s honky tonk. It could be goofy and irritating. Instead, it’s sleek, glittering and even earnest in its dance floor ebullience.
Hunter Hayes, “Rescue”
I had never heard a Hunter Hayes song before, besides a cloying Grammys performance. Upon hearing this blind on a Spotify playlist, I was struck by the rock solid songwriting and impressive vocal performance. It sounds like a huge radio hit designed to compete with Adele on Adult Contemporary stations. I hope it does.
If there are two genres I love just for pulpy, genre reasons, it’s country music and K-pop. The wilder, K-poppier, the better. But I’m also ruthless about cutting tracks I don’t 100% love. “Monster” survived on my K-pop playlist for months before striking me as really great. It’s got typical K-pop, half-rapped R&B verses tied up with a boy-band chorus and an outro with just one guy rhythmically intoning the words “Creeping, creeping, creeping.”
Miguel, “Don’t Look Back”
To continue the monster theme, this quarter I rediscovered Miguel’s “Thriller” homage from 2012’s “Kaleidoscope Dream”. I’m so impressed by the skillful interpolation of Zombies classic “Time of the Season” woven into his own intense entry into the sexy-dangerous-no-really-romantic-love-is-frightening canon. “Time of the Season” wears its creepy pleasure-power complex proudly. “Don’t Look Back” sees that in the mirror and sounds a warning. Fantastic vocals, inventive and darkly groovy arrangement.
Moses Sumney, “Don’t Bother Calling”
I’m so blown away by this album. I first encountered Moses Sumney’s single “Everlasting Sigh” through Spotify and thrilled to the airy vocal gymnastics and positive vibes.
Sumney’s first full-length, however, is mostly a dark search around his soul, wondering if romantic love is real, or even desirable. But it’s incredible. It’s smooth and soulful, spiked with unusual rhythms and poetic interludes, and iced down with wonderfully recorded strings, flutes and brass arrangements. And Sumney’s falsetto. You have to try this record.
Solange, “Where Do We Go”
Gorgeous, and intense, this song reflects on Solange’s personal history of displacement while echoing the uncertainty and despair lumping in the throat of African Americans in 2017. She lets it out with cooing vocals flown out over lonely church piano pounding away somewhere, marching step-by-step down darkened streets.
Brand New, “Can’t Get It Out”
Welcome back Brand New. It’s been too long since “Daisy”, a record I liked but never loved much. New record “Science Fiction” finds an unsettling center that accepts more melodic choruses but won’t back off the squealing guitars and creepy sonics.
Haim, “Little of Your Love”
If you’re feeling let down by Taylor Swift’s twingey new material, be comforted by Haim’s latest. Chopped and filtered “whoa-oh-ohs” seem sampled right from Swift’s 1989 while angelic vocal accents recall The Beach Boys. It’s an entirely commercial sounding affair, down the song’s origin as a commission for a Judd Apotow comedy. But this distillation of Haim’s lightest and sunshineyest inclinations grasps the ledge beyond imitation to become it’s own sweet thing.
Hiss Golden Messenger, “Biloxi”
While singer and main-man MC Taylor has just released a brand new album, his 2016 release, “Heart Like a Levee”, shot an arrow right at my soft spot for bluesy, alternative country. Some songs, like “Biloxi” sound to me like a southern-fried bar band grooving on a Sunday morning. There’s something gospel here. Other songs are fraught, semi-acoustic wanderings to that might appeal to Ryan Adams fans. Listen and love Hiss Golden Messenger.
The National, “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness”
So much great music came out at the end of September. There hasn’t been enough time to settle and live with any of the great music. The National, The War on Drugs, the new Hiss Golden Messenger, Brand New. So I’m not ready to heap praise on their new record. But this one’s started wearing itself in. Features the rare appearance of a splintering guitar solo. While the deliciously mumbled lyrics sketch a dark storm of mental and emotional energy, the guitar solo is a flaring, reddened sun bursting through apocalyptic clouds. Of course, it’s swallowed up by darkness again at the end.
The War on Drugs, “Strangest Thing”
This is the one I need to dig into. It’s just so good. I’m getting to the end of the post now so I’m a little out of words at the moment. But I keep coming back to this thinking it would make a great soundtrack to a school dance on “Stranger Things”. And not just because the names are alike. It’s a surging piece of guitar wizardry for sure, but it plays like a slow dance, bedded in synthesizers and soundscapes so reminiscent of the original soundtrack work for “Stranger Things” by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein. I love it, so good.